Indonesian Mennonites reaching out to victims of back-to-back disasters

News Service
November 9, 2010
Yogyakarta, Indonesia – Indonesian Mennonites have been struggling to keep up with relief efforts following at least three natural disasters that have come in quick succession in the last six weeks.
Most recently, on October 26, the Mount Merapi volcano erupted in Magelang, Central Java. Because of the relatively close proximity of Mennonite churches, Mennonite Diakonia Service (MDS) – the peace-building and service arm of the Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia (GKMI) Mennonite church – was able within days to open a shelter in Sewukan, a village on the slope of the mountain.
When Merapi erupted even more strongly on November 6, the government extended the danger zone from the initial 5-kilometer radius to a 20-kilometer radius of the volcano. The Sewukan shelter then had to be relocated to the safe zone.
Many GKMI churches, especially those in Central Java and Yogyakarta, are sending volunteers and logistical help to run the shelter. They are providing food, basic sanitation services, trauma counseling, children’s activities and medical care to some 1300 people who were evacuated from their homes. One church even sent volunteers to give free haircuts and massages to victims.
In an email update to the GKMI churches, MDS Director Paulus Hartono wrote, “Fruits, face masks, baby food, baby milk, blankets, drinking water, staple food and biscuits are needed, as well as volunteers – especially to help with cooking, because many of the survivors are already suffering from extreme exhaustion and acute trauma.” 
At the time of writing, almost 300,000 people had been evacuated from the 20-kilometer radius danger zone. There is no indication of when it will be safe for evacuees to return to their homes.
Even those who do not live in the danger zones must deal with thick ash that covers roads, runways, buildings, and farm lands. The ash can also cause respiratory problems in areas distant from the volcano.
Earlier disasters: flash floods and tsunami
The Merapi volcano eruption, however, eclipses an earlier tragedy that has had less international exposure: In early October, flash floods devastated Wasior, an area on Indonesia’s easternmost large island, Papua. MDS and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) initially responded by offering relief supplies and trauma counseling for about 300 people (97 families) from two villages affected by the floods.
“They have lost everything,” said Paulus Hartono upon his initial visit to Wasior. “Their houses were flattened to the ground, and we found many cases of acute trauma here.” The flooding killed more than 100 people and injured hundreds others.
Unlike the response to the Merapi disaster, the Wasior effort has been slower and laborious because of its remote location. Sending volunteers and logistical help from Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, to Wasior, for example, would involve a 5.5-hour plane trip and 8 hours by boat, plus driving time to reach the affected areas. Even so, MCC and MDS are now working to raise funds to rebuild 100 houses. MCC has committed US$20,000 for this project.
At the same time, MDS is also seeking ways to respond to the October 25 tsunami that hit Indonesian Mentawai Islands, about 1200 kilometers (800 miles) away from Mount Merapi. Although there are no GKMI churches in the area, MDS is sending a team to assess the situation and explore ways to help survivors. More than 400 people have been confirmed dead, and large waves continue to disrupt relief efforts. In some cases, helicopters and surfboards are the only ways to reach isolated villages. “All we hear on the news is the Merapi eruption because of its proximity to major cities, but we must not forget Mentawai. People there are isolated, marginalized, and were already suffering from frequent earthquakes before this tsunami hit,” explained Paulus Hartono in an update on November 8.
Mount Merapi and the Mentawai Islands both lie along the world’s most active fault line known as the Pacific Ring of Fire. A rupture in the same fault line caused the 2004 tsunami that killed 230,000 in a dozen countries.
- Elina Ciptadi-Perkins, MWC staff
With reports from MDS director Paulus Hartono and GKMI moderator, Paulus Widjaja. Statistics on the Merapi and Mentawai disasters are from reports in The Jakarta Post.
Photos by Paulus Hartono available on request or for download (right-click to view or download):
1. An MDS banner identifies the Mount Merapi relief shelter supported by members of the GKMI Mennonite Church of Indonesia. 
2. Villagers in the Wasior region of Papua, Indonesia, clean up after flash floods in October. 
Mennonite World Conference is a communion (Koinonia) of Anabaptist-related churches linked to one another in a worldwide community of faith for fellowship, worship, service, and witness.