For the latest updates on this story read ‘Indonesian tsunami sparks child-welfare crisis’.
The devastating 7.5 magnitude earthquake which struck off the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on Friday has left 16,000 people internally displaced and in need of emergency shelter. At least one third of the homeless are children.
The earthquake triggered a massive tsunami. 10-foot-high waves engulfed the coastal town of Palu - killing almost 1,350 people and destroying homes, schools and businesses.
Children in the area are in desperate need of safe housing and basic supplies. Many are sheltering in ruined buildings or in temporary displacement camps. Access to food is limited, which has led to looting and violent behaviour.
SOS Children’s Villages is mounting a long-term response to ensure children affected by the disaster receive the care and psychological support they need. Plans are underway to set up child-friendly spaces in Palu to provide children with a safe place to play and receive nutritious meals, safe drinking water, health services, education, and trauma counselling. The charity employs teachers, social workers and trauma counsellors across Indonesia whose skills will be integral to the programme.
SOS Children’s Villages UK CEO Alison Wallace said: “Children and families in Palu need a place where they can feel safe, so they can begin to rebuild their lives and shattered communities. The children who have lived through this catastrophe need more than merely food, water and shelter – they need the chance to act like children by playing and making friends, they need the normality of returning to school, and they need trauma counselling to help heal the deep emotional wounds this disaster has caused.
“The terrible death toll we have witnessed, as well as the chaos and confusion that accompanies a disaster of this kind, has left too many children without the care and protection of a parent. We are deeply concerned for their safety. Child trafficking was a major problem in Indonesia even before the latest crisis, with 100,000 women and children being trafficked each year.”
As the world’s largest charity working with unsupported children SOS Children’s Villages works in emergency situations to protect children who have lost or been separated from their parents and to help reunite them with their missing families. When reunification is not possible, the charity offers unsupported children the chance to grow up in a nurturing family-like environment in one of their village communities.
The destruction of roads and transport links in the most affected areas has hindered the humanitarian response to the disaster. It was several days before food and water could be dispatched to survivors. The Indonesian government has prioritised access for medical and engineering personnel in the initial stages of the disaster recovery operation, but SOS Children’s Villages is hopeful of being able to send child-welfare specialists to the affected areas within days.
SOS Children’s Villages does not operate programmes on Sulawesi island therefore all of the children under the charity’s care in Indonesia are safe. Their closest village community is in Flores, around 900 kilometres from Palu. Travelling such a long distance under the current circumstances will be extremely challenging and it is expected to take the SOS team two days to reach the affected area by land, sea and air.
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Notes to editors:
For media enquiries please contact Lucy Prioli at Lucy.Prioli@sosuk.org or on 01223 222 974.