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Mass exodus by British tourists after earthquakes on Lombok - but what now for the islanders left behind?

Our press officer Karen Garvin wrote an article for the 'i' newspaper about the current situation in Indonesia

Inside one of the camps in the village of Selad
Inside one of the camps in the village of Selad

I arrived on Lombok just 30 minutes after the last major earthquake on Thursday 9 August. There was an eerie silence at the airport and instead of backpacks and suitcases arriving at the baggage reclaim there were boxes of syringes, surgical wipes, other medical supplies and wheelbarrows.

Three massive earthquakes in just 12 days had now hit the tropical island of Lombok, Indonesia, resulting in scenes of Western tourists losing holiday dreams, as they scrambled in panic to get onto boats and to safety. The tourists were gone but what of the islanders left behind?

I had come to support Muslim Aid’s local team and as I left the airport, the devastation I saw was catastrophic; bridges, banks, hospitals, schools and homes have been completely decimated, some looking as if they had literally dropped to the ground, others like bombs had hit them and blown out the walls.

The death toll has now risen to 468, more than 7,773 people have been injured and over 352,736 people have fled their homes and are now living in make-shift camps for displaced people*. Driving along, I could see camp after camp where men, women and children were living under tarpaulins.

Two hours later I was in the village of Selad, where half of the homes had been so badly damaged they couldn’t be lived in.  The first person I met was Sufrianti, a young mother, who told me that she’d been watching TV when the earthquake came. She said: “I grabbed the baby and ran for our lives. I felt so anxious. My home has been completely demolished.”

Many people told me that it’s cold sleeping out at night and in the day it’s boiling hot, mosquitoes are all around and there’s no privacy. There is nowhere to go to the toilet and they are dependent on other people for food and support.

Hotels on the island are like ghost towns and stores that are open have bare shelves. There is crippling local inflation; tarpaulins have doubled in price, eggs up by 33% and chickens now cost an additional 25%.

I spent most of the week in the north of Lombok which has been hardest-hit; Muslim Aid has developed an expertise in reaching marginalized people and those living in areas difficult to access.

In the hidden village of Sambik Elen, I spoke to the village leader and farmer Marwi, 43, who spends his days driving around on his scooter seeking help for his villagers.

 “Almost everyone in the village is homeless. We are all traumatized and the children are suffering with nightmares and need special support. I make my living by farming rice and corn but since the earthquake the fields are cracked, covered with dust from the mountain and sulphuric water is seeping through.

“We have had a lot of support but rice stocks are again low…we have enough rice for today and tomorrow … but I’m worried that my villagers will soon be starving.”

Excited children greeted us as we arrived in a small, overcrowded camp in Sesele, with a distribution of eggs, noodles, sanitary towels, nappies, water and rice . I was soon introduced to Atun, and her three day old baby. Atun, 32, had given birth just minutes before the last earthquake, the day I arrived . She wept as she relayed her story.

“I was worried that there might be another earthquake and I knew my baby was on its way. I was in pain, I couldn’t go to the toilet. I was worried and tried to make it come faster. When my husband and I arrived at the health centre there were no medical staff there – the baby came out on its own. The nurse came later.

“Then the third earthquake struck. My husband and I ran out and the nurse ran carrying our baby. I had no feelings – I left everything to God. The baby is healthy, but I feel so sad now because when my other children were born I could take them home, but I’ve had to bring this baby to the camp. I don’t have enough food and my milk is running out. Everyone feels sad here. Our homes are destroyed and we have nothing to go back to.”

I saw people washing their pots and clothes in the river in Sesele and I was told that the same river water was being used as a toilet by the hundreds camped around. The need to build latrines is vital now, as cholera and diarrhoea could bring more disaster to these families.

We walked through a cow shed, now home to many, and I was immediately struck by the wide smile of Ahmad Isnaini, a 39-year-old teacher. Ahmad told me how at the time of the last earthquake he and his wife Sri Handiyani, 35, had been playing outside with their children;  Mohammed el Watun, 4, and Intan, 10.

He invited me into their section, the straw now covered with a mat and a piece of cloth had been pinned up to keep out the blazing sun. When I asked how he could stay smiling he said: “I’m still alive and so is my family.”

“My mother, who is 90 years-old, was in the house as it collapsed around her.

We carried her out and luckily she wasn’t hurt. Now we are living in this cow shed and I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m still traumatised. If we hear a loud noise we all feel frightened.”



He took me to see what remained of their home. The side of the house had collapsed revealing their belongings; books, broken furniture and their daughter’s pink rucksack lay between piles of rubble.

Muslim Aid is working with local organisation Yayasan Kemanusiaan Muslim Indonesia (YKMI) and coordinating with local and national government agencies’ disaster management systems. But there is much to be done. Immediately food, water and shelter are vital to sustain lives and in the long-term water points, latrines, hospitals and schools need to be repaired and rebuilt.

The island is naturally beautiful – lush vegetation, mountains and the bluest of seas. One day the tourists will be back.  But, it’s going to take years for these resilient people to recover and my concern is for the more vulnerable people; the old, the disabled, the orphans and the many who are very poor – these are the people we need to support.

[* Statistics: latest from National Disaster Management Authority as on 14 August]

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