On 11 April, an 8.6 earthquake rattled most of Southeast Asia and even some parts of Africa, triggering an ultimately fruitless Indian-Ocean-wide tsunami warning and evoking memories of the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 that killed more than 180,000 people, 130,000 of them in Indonesia. For the people of Aceh in Indonesia – one of the most affected areas in 2004 — the thought of reliving that tragedy caused panic in the streets as families tried to figure out what to do.
Luckily, this time around there was no tsunami formed by the earthquake, but the scenario that played out was as real as any disaster response drill we’ve ever organized. Plan Indonesia’s team of disaster response experts were poised to launch into action if children and their families had been affected and two members of the team travelled to Aceh to conduct an assessment on the ground. It’s with that in mind that we got in touch with Vanda Lengkong, Plan Indonesia’s disaster risk management expert, to ask for her reflections on the recent quake and the subsequent response.
• From your observations after what happened on 11 April, does it seem like people in Aceh are well prepared now for another large earthquake and tsunami?
Objectively speaking, not everyone in Aceh is well prepared for a large earthquake or tsunami. Once an earthquake strikes people will experience a “flashback” to what happened in 2004 and it triggers the traumatic memories and makes them panic. So even though they know what to do once any earthquake hits, for a certain period some people just panic. This was happened in Banda Aceh on April 11.
However, in a place like Simeuleu island, the level of preparedness and how people reacted was very different different. Everyone showed quicker reactions, from the children to the adults. They were able to organize themselves and flee from their homes calmly to higher ground.
• What was encouraging to see in the immediate response/reactions of people and what concerned you?
The most concerning thing is with the early warning system, including information management and its circulation to the communities affected after the earthquake hit. There were reports by the national and local authorities that many of the early warning tools and equipments were broken and didn’t provide any signs or warnings to the people in Aceh at that time.
The level of preparedness of people in Aceh still varies, so an early-warning system still has a significant role play in minimizing the impact of disasters.
Plan first worked in Aceh right after the tsunami in 2004 with a focus on emergency response and recovery programmes until 2009. There were some small disaster risk reduction activities that we performed in collaboration with the Red Cross as well as Handicap International that focused on awareness raising of disaster education, including preparedness for future disasters such as earthquakes.
After the recent earthquake, during the assessment process, Plan’s team also delivered information on disaster preparedness, such as the importance of having a “go bag” at home and how to survive an earthquake, to the community people they met on the ground.
• From the videos we saw, it seems like people are still traumatized by what happened in 2004.
Yes. Our assessment team compared locations that they visited. In Banda Aceh, most people were panicked, many of them crying and running the wrong way to evacuate, all triggered by the trauma from the disaster in 2004.
In Calang, Meulaboh, people were more organized, though still individualistic – in some cases, parents saved themselves and left their children behind. In Simeulue, they knew how to react in that kind of situation.
In terms of further support, of course awareness rising and capacity building to strengthen community preparedness is still needed. There are many disaster risk reduction actors still working in Aceh at the moment and the local government is already better equipped to assist the community, so at the moment there isn’t really a need for Plan to provide further support.
• If a huge quake hit again, what would be the process of Plan’s response in the first 48 hours?
In the first 48 hours we would:
- Coordinate with the relevant government agencies, cluster members and other humanitarian organizations, including with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, to check and share initial data and potentially send a joint assessment team.
- Update the situation to county management team members.
- Monitor the situation’s progress through the media.
- Write and update situation reports for the Asia Regional Office.
- Check staff and their families are safe.
- Send an assessment team from the Emergency Response Team standby list.
- Prepare a media release and determine a spokesperson(s).
- Prepare any logistic support (warehouse checking, readiness of transport and suppliers for non-food-item shipments).
Contributing to family’s income is part of life in Vietnam. Once children have grown up, they send money back home to support their parents and grandparents. This is what Vi (pictured, left), a student, explained to us when she shared her experiences of moving from a poor village in northern Thanh Hoa to a big city, Ho Chi Minh, in search of a healthy wage.
Vi worked for a textile company there and earned 3,000,000 dong (US$150) a month. While it was enough to cover her costs, she could only send 1,000,000 dong (US$50) home every 5 months.
Finding it difficult to make ends meet and keen to be close to her family again, Vi moved back to her hometown in December 2011 and she now wants to find a job locally.
“I want to find a stable job with good income so that I can afford a comfortable life and at the same time be able to send some money back home to support my parents,” she said.
With opportunities for good jobs few and far between in Thanh Hoa, Vi is hoping to reap the rewards of taking part in a programme run by REACH, a local organisation born out of Plan Vietnam business school project in 2004. REACH equips marginalised youths with practical skills they can then take to find jobs in places like bars, restaurants, hotels and beauty salons.
Huy, 29, is another Thanh Hoa native who also tried his luck in Ho Chi Minh City, but found it pretty tough going. After travelling to Hanoi, Huy heard about Plan’s Livelihood Advancement Business School, the project REACH took on after it became independent, and he went to training sessions and then landed himself an internship at Big C supermarket in Hanoi. Just 6 years later and he was promoted to delivery manager, earning enough money to support himself and his family.
For Vi, Huy is an inpsiration, a role model and proof that young people can make something of their lives, no matter where they are from.
Development and urban migration are closely linked. Between 2000 and 2009, cities in Vietnam became home to 7,300,000 new people. Internal migration in Vietnam is the main contributor to population growth in urban areas. People either migrate to the main city of their province or move to the biggest cities in Vietnam and industrial zones.
The people moving to the cities are young — 72% of migrants to Hanoi are 15 to 39. They go to cities hoping to find good jobs so they can send money back home. But the reality of life in urban areas rarely lives up to expectations. Urban migrants face many challenges, like with getting household registration to access government services and protection in their employment. Many of them face urban poverty.