indonesia palu tsunami earthquake year later
THE ICONIC MOSQUE IN TALISE, PALU STILL STANDING AFTER THE DISASTER. ALL PHOTOS BY THE AUTHOR.
The VICE Guide to Right Now

One Year After a Devastating Tsunami and Earthquake, Palu Residents Are Still Trying to Get Back on Their Feet

Some residents of the Indonesian city have little to no choice but to risk their lives living in danger zones near the sea because there are limited job opportunities on land.
October 2, 2019, 8:59am

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.

In a temporary housing complex built on rubble, Hudaya was reunited with her niece for the first time after being separated during the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit the Indonesian city of Palu, Central Sulawesi province on Sept. 28, 2018.

“I never thought I’d see her again after the earthquake and tsunami separated us. Communication was difficult and nothing was clear,” Hudaya said.

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Hudaya and her niece lost a majority of their family to the disaster. She had nearly lost all hope, until she found out her niece was still alive a year later.

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HUDAYA HUGS HER NIECE, WHO SHE ACCIDENTALLY MET IN HER TEMPORARY HOUSING COMPLEX.

Of the few buildings still standing in Palu, a majority are shelters and temporary housing complexes. Twelve months since the quake and tsunami, thousands of residents are still living in makeshift tents donated by various organisations. Nasir, fields coordinator of the Grand Palu Mosque Shelter, told VICE that 133 families are living there.

“We’re still waiting for temporary housing, as we try to find employment as well,” the 63-year-old said.

Finding a job in the aftermath of a disaster is no easy feat. The most common job that exists in Palu today involves reconstruction work. Despite Palu’s desperate need for infrastructure, the number of reconstruction projects has begun to dwindle.

“I’ll take any sort of work. I’ll lift rocks, build furniture, whatever is needed. But now, there are no projects,” Nasir lamented.

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SHELTER NEAR THE GRAND PALU MOSQUE, PALU.

With the scarcity of jobs on land, many choose to return to the sea in order to survive. Hundreds of Mamboro residents in northern Palu resumed their jobs as fishermen, despite Mamboro being in the red zone, meaning the region is extremely vulnerable to tsunamis if the Palu Koro plate becomes active again.

For Titi, a 50-year-old resident, going back to living in the red zone is risky, but she has little to no choice.

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Last year’s 7.4 magnitude earthquake caused Rp15.29 trillion ($1.08 billion) in damages, devastating infrastructure and forcing the region’s economy to come to a halt.

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DAILY LIFE AT ONE OF THE TEMPORARY HOUSING COMPLEXES IN PALU.

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DESTROYED HOMES IN THE BALAROA REGENCY.

Over the past year, an array of non-governmental organizations have extended a hand to Palu to aid in recovery efforts. Still, Palu is far from being able to stand on its own two feet.

For instance, in Gawalise, residents are lucky enough to have access to more ample and well-funded facilities thanks to aid from the United Nations. The United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) built a clinic, a teen room, and a counselling site for survivors.

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YOUNG PEOPLE IN GAWALISE PARTICIPATING IN A UNFPA ACTIVITY.

Teenagers in Gawalise also have access to public speaking training, music making classes, and post-disaster psychosocial therapy. Vivien, a UNFPA facilitator, said the impact of these programs is tangible.

“They are more prepared to face the world,” she said.

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THE CLINIC ERECTED BY THE UNFPA.

Other areas are not as fortunate. Children living in the Asam III and Buvu Kulu temporary housing complexes have nowhere to play outside their cramped living spaces. Most outdoor spaces are not child-friendly, after landslides and liquefaction left rubble as far as the eye can see.

Balaroa and Petobo, the areas hit hardest by liquefaction, appear to be dead zones devoid of life. Pieces of destroyed houses litter the landscape.

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ONE OF THE MANY DESTROYED ROADS THAT HAVE NOT BEEN REPAIRED.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, aid from the national government was dispersed too late by the regional government. The initial funds were intended to be used to rebuild houses and compensate survivors, but the funds got lost in the bureaucratic verification process, and many residents said they haven’t seen a penny of the funds promised to them by the government.

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TITI AND HER FAMILY DECIDED TO REBUILD THEIR HOME IN THE RED ZONE, NORTH MAMBORO.

For that reason, Titi decided to take the risk of living in the red zone so that she can rely on the sea as a source of income. To her, it makes more sense than trying to find a job on land.

As of now, most Palu residents live in tents or temporary housing and rely on a Rp500,000 ($35.30) monthly stipend from the government, which often takes weeks to liquidate.

“Even if I were to rely only on Rp500,000, how would I buy food and send my children to school? That’s impossible,” Titi pointed out.

Rp1 = US$0.00007 as of Oct. 2, 2019.