On the ground in tsunami-stricken Mentawai

Indonesia, November 9, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Juan Christie/Mercy Corps  </span>
    The KRI (Indonesian Battleship) Cirebon 543, which I rode to the Mentawai Islands to help with Mercy Corps' emergency response. Photo: Juan Christie/Mercy Corps

It had already been a week since our Director, Erynn Carter, asked me to prepare myself to conduct the Joint Need Assesment for our emergency earthquake and tsunami response in the Mentawai Islands Yet, the tropical cyclone that has been hampering the coasts of West Sumatra and the Mentawai Islands threw off any plans we had.

This is the fact that you must be ready to face when you work in Mentawai, a colleague from an international non-governmental organization (NGO) said. Weather is very essential if you plan to work in Mentawai. Some boat accidents already happened in Mentawai waters, and although they thankfully claimed no lives, they resulted in lost materials and aid for the Mentawai people.

Finally, I had the chance to depart for the disaster-stricken islands on Sunday, November 7. The Indonesian Navy deployed three battle ships, including the one I was in, KRI (Indonesian Battleship) Cirebon 543. We sailed away with some other volunteers and NGO members to Sikakap, where the command center for Mentawai emergency response is situated.

I had no problem with the ten-hour journey across the calm sea, especially knowing that some of Mercy Corps staff had already conducted some distributions to survivors using simple long boats in the middle of the rain and rough sea. The usual travel time using passenger boats or ferryboats is around 18 to 22 hours, so being aboard a faster ship was really fortunate for me.

I am here in Mentawai to collect data from other NGOs and enter it into our assessment database. This database, developed by members of the Emergency Capacity Building (ECB) group, was supposedly to be tested out in Jakarta on November 3, 2010. Now, Mercy Corps — as the lead agency — must test it out in real emergency conditions.

Having reliable data is as important as having a targeted distribution of supplies during an emergency response. With good data management, the risk of overlapping assistance in certain areas can be avoided. Thus, the data can later be used to map which areas have been affected by disasters, but have not received any assistance.

So here I am, on the ground at last, in Sikakap, Mentawai. Let’s do this!