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Helping ease the shock of disasters

Indonesia, October 29, 2010

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Again it has been a shocking day for me. I was monitoring the updates from the recent disasters of emergency responses and related news. First of all, I was shocked by the news that the death toll from the tsunami that hit the Mentawai Islands rose to more than 340. Other information said it had reached 400, and there could still be hundreds more fatalities, since hundreds are still missing after the deadly waves struck.

Then my initial shock was followed by other news that mentioned the very earthquake that caused the Mentawai Islands tsunami also created volcanic activities in Mount Krakatau and Mount Papandayan in the western part of Java Island, hundreds of miles away. Again, this is the reality of living on the ring of fire, where the fault lines are so prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity.

And because of those realities, there should be even more effort going into strengthening the preparedness for communities that might have to face disasters like this. There are already many lessons that we have learned here in Indonesia from the many disasters we've faced. We will surely learn more from the emergency responses currently being led by national and regional government disaster authorities with whom Mercy Corps Indonesia is actively collaborating to help affected families. I offer sincere wishes of good luck to everyone involved in this response — and that includes many of those I work with, every day.

“I need more than good luck and Godspeed this time,” wrote my colleague once she reached West Sumatera after 35 hours on a ship. She was still another 10 hours or so from reaching the Mentawai Islands. That's how far many emergency responders are going to help bring assistance to tsunami survivors.

And that's not the hard part. Because, as she reaches the Mentawai Islands, she will also deal with shattered communities, grieving families, huge swaths of land that are underwater and houses that lay crumpled on the sand.

The power of this most recent tsunami is undeniable. But so, too, is the power of people traveling from faraway to help survivors. We must always do more not only to respond to the needs of families struck by disaster, but also ensure that — if there is an unfortunate next time — they will be better prepared.