Tsunami-ravaged aceh holds first disaster simulation exercise for disabled

News Hour:

Hundreds of people, including many survivors of the 2004 Asian Tsunami, participated in Indonesia’s first disaster risk reduction (DRR) simulation for people with disabilities on Sunday in Aceh province with the support of IOM.

“This is the first time I’ve been able to participate in this kind of activity and it’s very helpful in case we need to evacuate ourselves in the future,” said 19-year-old Delisa, a university student whose left leg was amputated below the knee as a result of injuries she suffered when the tsunami swept through her village.

The simulation was modelled on the events of 26 December 2004: a powerful earthquake followed by a devastating tsunami causing widespread destruction in the provincial capital Banda Aceh. Emergency first responders, firefighters, the Banda Aceh Disaster Risk Management Agency (BPBD) and local residents all pitched in to help injured “victims”, including roughly 150 people with various disabilities, reach safety in a purpose-built, wheelchair accessible, three-storey safe house.

“People with special needs are relatively dependent on family, companions and the community to survive situations like these because they face significant challenges independently evacuating themselves during the period of chaos following a disaster,” said IOM Chief of Mission Mark Getchell. “It is inspiring to see the aspirations of this group with special needs being heard, giving people an opportunity to learn what their needs and limitations are, which we hope will help inspire improved DRR-related regulations, rules and responses.”

IOM was active in Aceh before the tsunami that claimed the lives of an estimated 230,000 people and injured 500,000 more, and was one of the lead government partners in the emergency response and subsequent reconstruction of the country’s northernmost province.

IOM’s DRR efforts in Aceh are bridging the gap between national and local level risk reduction efforts through enhanced sectorial planning, and creating linkages between grassroots organizations and response planners to create a sense of community ownership.

Indonesia (population 250 million) straddles the seismically active “Pacific Ring of Fire” and is one of the most disaster-prone countries on earth. The weekend simulation involving almost 400 people, more than one-third of whom were disabled, was the USAID-funded project’s 26th DRR exercise in Aceh. Earlier (2012-14) Australian-funded IOM partnerships with the national risk management agency focused on populous (40 million) West Java.

“We really appreciate IOM supporting this activity,” said Sabri Arsyad, the BPBD’s Head of Prevention and Preparedness. “This simulation was needed to add to the knowledge of the community and especially the disabled residents, their families and friends, so we are all better prepared should there be another disaster in this area.”

Prior to the start of the simulation, Delisa sat quietly beside Syarifuddin, a 48-year-old blind man whose family miraculously survived the tsunami, despite living close to ground zero. He recalls the events of the day vividly as well as the message the DRR trainers have been driving home.

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