The people of Indonesia’s Mentawai Islands have been let down by the slow response to the tsunami.
The affected areas are not easy to reach. From the West Sumatra capital Padang, it’s a 10-hour boat ride. Once on the islands, it can take another three hours in a small boat from the town of Sikakap to the affected areas.
But even taking that into account, this has generally been a poorly resourced and planned operation.
There are plenty of people doing some excellent work and the aid has been arriving in Sikakap in large quantities, but because of logistics problems it has not been leaving fast enough to the outlying areas where it’s needed.
Sikakap is now abuzz with government emergency response teams and aid agencies, but it seems few bothered to think about how they would get themselves and their supplies out to the villages.
There are some large boats that are being used for aid distribution, but there has been a general over reliance on the use of small local boats and there aren’t enough to go around. The boat owners have also been reluctant to venture out in the rough seas.
There are two or three helicopters that have only just started making regular flights. Until now, there were only sporadic takeoffs.
We visited two of the most severely damaged settlements and even there, the people have been largely left to fend for themselves, helped by a handful of search and rescue personnel.
One village had emergency supplies, including shelter, the other only had one police tent, which was erected close to the ocean where the villagers are now too scared to stay. They had been visited by the Indonesian president three days after the wave, but they hadn’t been given any emergency supplies until we visited, five days after the disaster struck.
As well as food and shelter, the survivors, who’ve been through so much already, need help finding bodies.
While we were there, a search team, armed with a chainsaw, helped the locals recover a body from beneath the rubble. As we prepared to leave on a police helicopter they found another. But the emergency response crew, and their chainsaw, left with us, leaving the people to dig on their own.