EMERGENCY UPDATE: Doctors Without Borders Begins Providing Aid in Aceh, Northern Sumatra

New York/Brussels, December 29, 2004 – Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today began providing medical aid to people in Aceh, Indonesia, a region devastated by Sunday’s earthquake. MSF is the first international organization to begin working in the area. A team of eight people, including three nurses and two doctors, arrived in Banda Aceh yesterday and set up a clinic in a camp for displaced people.

Equipment and supplies bound for Indonesia leaving from Ostend airport in Belgium. © Tomas Van Houtryve

“When we arrived yesterday evening in Banda Aceh we found the town half destroyed,” says Sabine Rens, Head of Mission for MSF in Indonesia. “Three camps for displaced people have been set up in the town. As well as running a clinic, we are also providing medical support to one of the hospitals.”

The population of Aceh has received no international humanitarian aid at all since the disaster struck four days ago. “Aceh is undoubtedly one of the regions most severely affected by the earthquake,” says Jan Weuts, coordinator of MSF emergency response in Brussels. “The epicentre of the earthquake occurred less than 250 kilometers away from the town of Banda Aceh, and a series of aftershocks hit less than 100 kilometers away. It is extremely important that we get aid to affected people as quickly as possible, which means bringing in medical materials, drugs, and supplies to improve water and sanitation.”

Cargo plane being loaded at Ostend airport in Belgium. © Tomas Van Houtryve

The plane which brought the team to Banda Aceh yesterday had six tons of medical material on board. An additional MSF cargo flight carrying 32 tons of medical and sanitation materials, departed for Medan in north Sumatra, close to Aceh, yesterday evening. Today, a second plane will carry another 22 tons of equipment and supplies for improving water and sanitation.

In the next 48 hours, two MSF staff will make an air assessment of the northeast part of Aceh, using a helicopter to survey the 400 kilometer stretch of land between Medan and Banda Aceh. Seven more international staff arrived in Jakarta this morning and will travel to Aceh shortly.