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Hundreds in earthquake owe lives to city charity

Indonesia, October 8, 2009

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Mark McLaughlin

The Scotsman
October, 2009

WORKERS from an Edinburgh-based disaster-relief charity have been credited with saving hundreds of lives in last week's Indonesian earthquake.

Mercy Corps aid worker Dr Jim Jarvie, who arrived in the stricken Sumatran capital Padang this week, said the body count would have been far higher had it not been for special disaster risk reduction courses which the charity has run in the area.
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Mercy Corps, which set up its headquarters in Sciennes earlier this year, is one of the few international aid agencies that has a constant presence in Sumatra.

Dr Jarvie, 50, who is currently based in Italy but frequently returns to visit his family in North Berwick, said the villages that received Mercy Corps training suffered only one fatality.

Speaking from the heart of the disaster zone, Dr Jarvie told the Evening News: "I arrived to find that 90 per cent of the houses in one village had been destroyed, but remarkably only one person had been killed out of a population of between 450 to 500 families. It was an elderly man in his 70s.

"The people living in Indonesia know they're living on a major fault line so they're aware that an earthquake could hit at any time.

"My colleagues who were working in these villages said that nobody panicked, because they all knew what to do thanks to the Mercy Corps DRR courses.

"Everybody was given disaster assembly points for regrouping, and they worked very effectively."

Dr Jarvie, a biologist with more than a decade of experience in south-east Asia, was sent to contribute his language skills and his wealth of local knowledge to the disaster relief efforts.

He first visited Indonesia 14 years ago on a Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) programme to help find a solution to a plant disease that was devastating the region's spice industry.

He said: "There was a disease that was killing off the region's cloves, the local spice that's commonly used to make mulled wine in Britain.

"It's a vital part of Indonesia's economy so the UK government sent over a task force to scour the region for unaffected clove relatives to use as grafts."

He joined Mercy Corps immediately after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami in Sri Lanka, where he was based at the time.

After two years of working on tsunami response, he took on a role as the agency's director of climate change, environment and natural resource management.

He added: "Through my experience in Indonesia I was able to learn the language, which is a great skill to have at a time like this because it allows me to walk into the villages and communicate directly with the people there to find out what they need.

"There are several other NGOs (non-governmental organisations] out here at the moment and there's a United Nations coordination team working to bring it all together.

"The earthquake was very selective in the areas it affected, so some parts have been totally wiped out while others are still standing. It's like patchwork destruction.

"The confirmed death toll is currently around 700, but there are many more missing and in the end it could reach into the thousands."