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Sumatra, Indonesia: MSF Extends Post-Earthquake Assistance to Mentawai islands
September 26, 2007
When Sumatra, Indonesia, was hit by successive earthquakes on September 12 and 13, populations on the remote Mentawai islands, some 90 miles off Sumatra's west coast, were also devastated, but reaching them was extremely challenging. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has now delivered 20 tons of relief materials, including plastic sheeting, hygiene kits, and blankets, for 2,000 to 3,000 families in Pagai Utara and Pagai Selatan, on the west side of the islands.
"The situation here is dire," says MSF field coordinator Renzo Fricke. "Because of the difficult access to the area, people have not received much assistance, so far. They are sleeping in the open; many have lost their houses or are too afraid to sleep inside."
According to official figures, 952 houses were totally destroyed on the islands, and nearly 1,150 were damaged. Due to harsh weather conditions and high waves, the logistics for this aid operation have been difficult. To reach the islands and distribute relief supplies, MSF is using speedboats provided by Surfaid International, a nongovernmental organization working with the local community.
MSF has also sent nine medical and paramedical staff, including doctors, nurses, and psychologists, and four logisticians. Through mobile clinics, they are offering both primary health care and mental support to the affected populations.
"Mental health is one of our priorities," says Fricke. "Because of the constant aftershocks and the many tsunami alerts, the population is terrorized. There are many rumors about a new big earthquake and stories about a tsunami waiting to happen. The catastrophe of December 2004 is on everyone's mind."
Immediately after the earthquakes, MSF distributed over 210 tons of relief materials in mainland Sumatra: in Muko Muko, north Bengkulu province; and in southern Padang district. Assistance has now reached most of the population; MSF expects to continue distribution here for another week and will offer mental health support through the next month.