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Tsunami survivors are ready to live healthy

Indonesia, February 17, 2011

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Sara Velasquez/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Young survivors of the Mentawai tsunami at a water tap near the displacement camp where they currently live. Photo: Sara Velasquez/Mercy Corps

When a disaster initially happens, the first response is to take care of the injured and provide emergency relief to at least meet the basic needs of life. There is a second, and equally dangerous consequence which is often left until the issue needs to be attended — sickness from lack of proper sanitation.

In the internally-displaced person (IDP) camps adults and children are suffering from diarrhea, vomiting, fever, cough and itching in some parts of the body. Recently, children have broken out in measles, but there are only a few doctors on the island and the numbers have not been confirmed. Children have been taken to Sikakap at the beginning of last week, but there were no medicine to treat their conditions.

In Bulasat sub-village, like in most of the IDP camps, there is an obvious lack of facilities to support healthy living after the tsunami. The weather is hot, there is a lack of clean water and there are no toilets. In addition to these conditions, their nutrient intake is low and that makes people more susceptible to disease.

A resident in the relocation camp in Bulasat, 39-year-old elementary school teacher Hasminar Taileleu says, "Although the Mentawai people live isolated from others, we know how to live clean and healthy. But in this condition, it is impossible to apply healthy living knowledge and be clean. We are still focusing on food. We just don’t have the money to buy soap and detergents."

Hasminar said that people who need to go to the toilet at night do so just behind their tents. “It is a long walk to the river, and if it is the middle of the night, they are scared to go so far away from home in the darkness. In the morning, the feces are gone, eaten by the dogs.”

According to her and others in the community, if there are public toilets facilities, residents will use them. Residents are learning more about the importance of washing their hands with soap (which reduces the risk of diarrhea by at least 44 percent).

Mercy Corps is currently providing hygiene promotion activities in Pagai Seletan and Pagai Utara. We are also in the process of building temporary latrines in Bulasat and neighboring IDP camps.