Relief effort after Sumatra earthquake must be boosted

A week after two powerful earthquakes hit the Indonesian Island of Sumatra, relief aid is still not properly reaching the rural populations affected, says humanitarian organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

After assessing the needs in the cities of Padang in West Sumatra and Bengkulu, further southeast, MSF has focused its efforts on the populations living along the coastline, between the two provincial capitals. Three teams, comprised of doctors, psychologists, logisticians and nurses, are now at work in the south of Padang province, north of Bengkulu province and in Muko Muko, which was hardest-hit by last week's earthquake.

MSF has distributed blankets, plastic sheeting and hygiene kits and is now running mobile clinics for basic healthcare. But MSF's medical coordinator Oscar Bernal says that the needs are huge and other actors need to step up their activities as soon as possible.

"In the cities the response was good but the situation is very different in rural areas. The populations are either staying in camps or sleeping out in the open. They lack clean water, blankets, food, and the relief aid has been slow to arrive," stresses Oscar Bernal.

People are so desperate that they do not always wait for official distributions. On Monday, MSF trucks were stopped on their way to Muko Muko and villagers took the relief materials. "Understandably, these people were angry because they'd been waiting for many days without getting any aid," explains Bernal.

Helping people cope with mental trauma is one of MSF's  priorities in the affected areas. Continuing aftershocks have triggered strong fears of tsunamis among the survivors. A team of eight MSF psychologists have begun psychological education and counselling activities, within the general population as well as in schools and in camps for the displaced.

"Many people are still traumatised. Through these interactive activities, we try to help them cope with stress and overcome their fears so they can start rebuilding their lives," explains Oscar Bernal.