Local partnerships most effective way to help Indonesians affected by Sulawesi Earthquake and Tsunami—USAID

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Photo by USAID Indonesia.

On Wednesday,  USAID Mission Director Erin McKee and USAID Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance Regional Advisor Harlan Hale gave an update and media briefing on the U.S. response to the Sulawesi earthquake and tsunami. Both Ms. McKee and Mr. Hale emphasized that partnering with local organizations is the best way for affected persons to receive the aid that they need, since it bypasses language barriers, helps with understanding local context, and causes aid to be delivered more effectively.

Ms. McKee started with saying that USAID is in continuous contact with the government of Indonesia to determine priority needs as well as how the United States can continue to help the people of Sulawesi.

She gave the following updates:

  • To date, the United States has donated US $4 million (Rp 60 billion)
  • US disaster experts have been on the ground coordinating with the local authorities, the government of Indonesia, and other humanitarian organizations on assessment and response
  • Emergency shelter kits, solar powered lamps, hygiene kits and other critical supplies have been distributed, and safe spaces for children to play have also been set up
  • 2210 rolls of heavy duty plastic sheeting will be arriving from USAID warehouses in Malaysia and Dubai as early as October 11, which will provide shelter for more than 110,000 people
  • Three C130 aircraft planes have been deployed in Palu, Sulawesi daily to deliver aid
  • The private sector has also donated in-kind help and transportation support as well as helped raised funds, including companies such as Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Google, McDonald’s, Caterpillar

Ms. McKee reiterated that “Disaster is everyone’s business,” and gave the assurance that USAID would continue to support efforts in Indonesia, not just for rescue but for rehabilitation and recovery in the long term.

Mr. Hale said that he and the team have been in Indonesia for some years now and that they know the region very well. He assured the media that USAID was present in Indonesia even before the disaster struck, have been helping since day one, and will continue to do so.

When asked by media what the biggest obstacles have been in getting aid to those who need it the most, Ms. McKee said that USAID has been working hand in hand with the Red Cross in Indonesia as well as other organizations, and therefore there have been no major obstacles to extending aid, despite the magnitude of the disaster, which, as Mr. Hale pointed out, included liquefaction and landslides as well as the earthquake and tsunami. Because of this magnitude, the immediate need was to find safe spaces for people, which on-ground organizations have been able to do.

The Washington Post asked if, in the light of the government’s restrictions on foreign aid as well as the bureaucratic process, had USAID encountered any difficulties in getting aid to people in need?

Ms. McKee said that what’s been in their favor is the organization’s modus operandi’s to work with local partners, and due to the long history of USAID’s relationship with the local Red Cross wherein they’ve worked hand in hand, as well as with other organizations, they have been able to deliver aid effectively. Working closely with the Indonesian government has also allowed USAID to facilitate a smooth delivery of aid.

Her recommendation therefore to other international groups is to find local organizations and work with them in situations such as that in Sulawesi. She also earlier recommended that cash donations were preferred in such situations, since it does not require resources spent managing donated goods, as well as allows for relief supplies to be bought in nearby areas, which helps jumpstart the local economy in a time of need.

Mr. Hale, when asked for more information about their experiences on the ground, noted that electricity was restored relatively quickly, along with 3G mobile phone services. He noted that conditions on the ground, such as communications and access to other areas, are improving daily.

Some teams, again partnering with local non-government organizations, have been able to visit remote areas beyond Palu.

He also reported seeing “spontaneous encampments” of 5 to 10 families living together.

He said that many Indonesians have brought forward their expertise in disaster management and response, and that government and team efforts in working together well.

As the briefing ended, Ms. McKee said that USAID would continue to analyze on-ground needs and identify gaps that it could possibly fill both in the short and long-term.