Matt MacCalla, Direct Relief program officer for Asia, is in Padang assessing the continually changing needs following a devastating series of earthquakes that hit Indonesia in early October. Immediately following the initial quake, Direct Relief airlifted an emergency consignment of medical supplies valued at $976,200 to longtime partner Muhammadiyah, one of Indonesia’s largest civic organizations, and accelerated a $60,000 grant to Yayasan Bumi Sehat in Aceh, another longtime partner. MacCalla’s account of his visit to Padang underscores the positive, long-term effects of smart emergency response:
When I arrived in Padang, the scene at first appeared fairly normal. The airport was in good shape and I noticed a few rundown buildings and rubble here and there. But as I got closer to the city, I saw huge buildings collapsed into piles of rubble, or toppled onto their side, or missing walls or a roof—and homes that were uninhabitable. At my hotel, a two-story building with two wings and a reception office in between, one of the wings had collapsed, pulling off the reception-area wall in the process.
I traveled to Padang to meet with representatives of Muhammadiyah, an Indonesian nonprofit organization that provides community services and development programs like health and education. Immediately after the earthquake, Muhammadiyah’s specially trained emergency medical responders in the area set up five temporary medical clinics and five mobile clinics, run out of ambulances or large vans, from each base clinic. Their response was swift; within days, teams of medical providers had arrived and all 10 medical operations were up and running, each seeing an average of 100 patients per day. Their exemplary response capabilities can be traced back to an emergency response training program that Direct Relief funded and Muhammadiyah organized after the Jogjakarta earthquake in 2006.
Shortly after I arrived, we traveled from central Padang to the most affected regions at the earthquake’s epicenter. We visited Muhammadiyah’s clinics and mobile programs, which now, a few weeks after the earthquake, have been scaled back to three clinics and two mobile programs, as some sections of the city had returned to normalized healthcare services. Earthquakes happen at a moment’s notice, injuring large amounts of people all at once leaving the hospitals and clinics that are not destroyed with a large surge of patients. As weeks pass the most important thing is to get the preexisting healthcare structure functioning again taking of those who were injured with proper follow up care but not forgetting about the daily health needs of the affected population. Muhammadiyah’s five programs are providing entirely free services to a consistent stream of about 100 patients per day. Now, patients are seeking care for conditions not directly related to the earthquake, but with only three healthcare facilities not destroyed, it’s clear that millions of people need someplace to go for treatment.
The need for free services is especially evident. In many villages, increasing in number and severity as the mountains rose higher, the people had lost almost everything. Ninety percent of homes and all their contents were destroyed. Homes that were not rubble did not look habitable. Where health facilities existed previously—and they had been few and far between—they no longer stood. Thousands of people are still living in tents in front of their now-dangerous homes, or in front of the rubble that was once their homes. At the top of a mountain range, I had the nightmarish experience of standing on what was once someone’s kitchen floor, seeing the rest of their house hundreds of feet below. In this area, three entire villages of hundreds of people plummeted down the face of a cliff as the mountain they lived on disintegrated beneath them. The point of these miserable details is that people have other things to spend their money on besides health care: shoes, a bed, a house, rebuilding their lives, replanting the field behind their house that used to grow crops, funerals. Muhammadiyah’s free clinics have been essential to these communities as they struggle to get back on their feet.
Several organizations were providing aid immediately after the earthquake, but only a handful is now. That makes the work that Muhammadiyah is doing—and Direct Relief’s support—even more valuable. Direct Relief is committed to supporting local groups proving aid before and after emergencies strike, always supporting needs well after the headlines fade. The partnership with Muhammadiyah has spanned half a decade and three major emergencies.