By Laura Sheahen, Catholic Relief Services in Asia
By the light of a full moon, children are playing late-night soccer in what looks like a fairground. Four enormous tents loom in the background. Nearby, a few smaller tents have festive red and white stripes.
It’s Ramadan, a time of celebration, but this is no festival. It’s a camp for people whose houses collapsed in the Sept. 2 earthquake that struck West Java, Indonesia.
In poor villages near the southern Java coast, and in neighborhoods in the town of Tasikmalaya, tens of thousands of people became homeless in a matter of seconds. Many are now crowded into government-issued tents, sleeping 50 or even 80 people to a tent.
“In this tent, it doesn’t smell good, it’s hot, and there are mosquitoes,” says a 55-year-old woman named Suliah. “It’s noisy and hard to sleep.”
For all their limitations, the huge olive-green tents are an improvement over the previous nights’ lodgings. “The night after the quake I went to the hills,” says Uti Sapti, a 75-year-old grandmother. “I slept on the ground—there were no blankets or tents. Thursday night we also slept on the ground, but near my house.”
To escape the cramped conditions of the big tents, some villagers are creating makeshift dwellings in their debris-strewn yards. “I borrowed this tarp,” says Uti, pointing to a blue plastic sheet stretched between trees. “Ten people sleep under it.” Chickens peck around the bed Uti managed to salvage from her house.
As CRS (Caritas USA) staffers move around the village, assessing the damage the 7.3-earthquake left in its wake, it’s clear that shelter is a top priority. For the short term, CRS is providing sturdier tarps so villagers who can safely stay in their yards can leave the communal tents.
“Hygiene is a concern,” says Syahri Ramadhan, Emergency Program Manager for CRS Indonesia. “People are going to open fields because the bathrooms are buried under rubble. Some of the wells are too.”
Living in the larger tents, some villagers are falling ill. “My six-year-old daughter has a fever,” says one woman. One of the smaller tents in the camp area is being used for a clinic run by a CRS partner; patients mention rashes and stomach problems.
“After a quake, it’s important to get families into safer, cleaner living spaces quickly,” says Yenni Suryani, Country Team Leader for CRS Indonesia. “It’s a challenge we’ve met before here in Indonesia, and we’re ready to meet it again.”