After Nias, where next?

Saturday, April 9, 2005
By nias

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Today, just under two weeks after a huge earthquake demolished their homes, burying hundreds of men, women and children in their sleep, the people of Nias are still struggling to rebuild their lives.

As of this weekend, many bodies were still under the rubble, unrecovered due to a lack of heavy earth moving equipment. School children, those who survived the March 28 killer quake and escaped uninjured, were compelled to attend their lessons in makeshift classrooms or in the open. Food, water and fuel were hard to come by.

Though smaller in scale than the catastropic destruction that was left in the wake of the Dec. 26 tsunami, which washed whole towns and villages off the map, the human suffering that the 8.7-scale earthquake has wrought on the once-idyllic island of Nias is felt no less intensely by the island's population.

Not that help from outside has been wanting. As was the case in the Aceh tsunami disaster, help has come in by the planeload and by sea, sent over by concerned citizens overseas and elsewhere across the country as soon as news of the disaster spread. And as was true in the wake of the Dec. 26 calamity too, friendly countries near and far have been prompt to extend a helping hand to ease the suffering of the populace.

If something good has come out of this latest disaster, it must be that it has strengthened the bond of solidarity and mutual understanding — both on the national and international front — that governmental mismanagement, oppression and discrimination have for so long buried and pushed into near oblivion.

All this, however, does not detract from the disturbing impression that the various natural disasters that have occurred over the past months have proven this country's capabilities to deal with natural disasters to be grossly inadequate. As regards the Dec. 26 tsunami and more recent Nias earthquake, it is easy and certainly tempting to lay the blame for the nation's inadequacy on the sheer scope and extent of the destruction.

Nevertheless, one cannot escape the impression that neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka have shown themselves to be much more ready to act in the face of disaster. The very fact that international teams have often been first to offer help in some of the most remote of the disaster-stricken areas should give us plenty of reason to think about upgrading our own relief capabilities.

To be sure, this may not be as easy a task as it may seem. For one thing, money in sufficient amounts must be set aside to establish the organizational framework and set up the infrastructure and equipment necessary for such a task. In the face of such constraints, the government and the nation are well advised to make the best use of the international offers that have been made by governments and organizations abroad to come to our and to the region's help.

Above all, the local populace of our coastal regions must be made aware of the vital importance of keeping their protective coastal environments intact. This is particularly true given the inclination of Indonesians to dismiss or take lightly the possibility of disaster until it actually strikes. Hopefully, though, the devastation which the disasters of past weeks have wrought in the area can serve as a reminder that prevention is always better than the cure.

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