Preparation saves lives in Padang

I’ve been thinking a lot today about preparing for disasters. It’s something we talk about a lot at Oxfam, but seeing it in action here in Padang after this earthquake has really made me realise just how essential it is.

Getting aid into a disaster zone quickly is incredibly difficult. Even getting immediate information about what’s happening is a challenge. In the hours after this earthquake, phone lines were down, roads were cut off and even though Oxfam and others were working flat out to try to respond, we all struggled to work out what had happened, and what was needed.

But while all this chaos was happening, aid was already being distributed. Staff from local groups that Oxfam has been partnering with to prepare for disasters got straight to work. Because they were already based in the affected communities, they were able to start handing out 2,500 tarpaulins and other essential items that Oxfam had stored in the area – giving people immediate shelter and help until more supplies and assistance could arrive.

I’ve seen those tarpaulins stretched out in front of destroyed houses in village after village here. I can only imagine how it must have felt for the people our partners managed to help in the confusion and devastation of the first 24 hours after the earthquake.

Now that we’re able to get extra supplies and staff into Padang, (including an incredibly experienced emergency team who have now dealt with something like 35 disasters in Indonesia), we’re able to back up those first efforts and start to work with our local partners to rebuild people’s lives. But seeing those tarpaulins in front of people’s ruined houses has made me realise how was crucial it was that we had that local presence here that meant we could start work helping people almost immediately.

Of course, no system is perfect, and a big part of what we’ll now try and do here in Padang will be to work with the local government and other groups so that the area is better prepared for future disasters. After all, this is part of the “ring of fire” – an area infamous for its earthquakes. I’ve just heard that seismologists have said that this earthquake wasn’t the big one they were predicting for this area. With that in mind, preparing as best we can ahead of the next big one seems to make a lot of sense.


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