Sumatra: MSF extends post-earthquake assistance to Mentawai islands

Some 20 tons of relief materials have reached the remote Mentawai islands, 150 kilometres off the west coast of Sumatra, which were badly hit by the two earthquakes of Wednesday 12 and Thursday 13 September.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has shipped plastic sheeting, hygiene kits and blankets for 2,000 to 3,000 families, mainly on the western coast of Pagai Utara and Pagai Selatan, which were hit hardest by the quakes. According to official figures, 952 houses were totally destroyed and nearly 1150 are damaged.

"The situation here is dire. Because of the difficult access to the area, people have not received much assistance so far. They are sleeping in the open; many have lost their houses or are too afraid to sleep inside." said MSF Field Coordinator, Renzo Fricke.

Four logisticians and nine medical and paramedical staff, including doctors, nurses and psychologists, have been sent to the two islands.

Due to poor weather conditions and high waves, the logistics for this aid operation are highly challenging. To reach the islanders and distribute relief supplies, MSF uses speedboats provided by SurfAid International, a non-governmental organisation working with the local community.

Through mobile clinics, MSF is screening the health villagers and offering both primary health care and mental support.

"Mental health is one of our priorities," added Fricke. "Because of the constant aftershocks and the many tsunami alerts, the population is terrorised. There are many rumours about a new big earthquake and stories about a tsunami waiting to happen. The catastrophe of December 2004 is in everyone's mind."

MSF has also distributed over 210 tons of relief materials in the north of Bengkulu province, in Muko Muko, and in the south of Padang district immediately after the earthquakes. Assistance has now reached most of the population. Here, the distribution should proceed for another week, while mental support will continue over the next month.