Dire Situation For Mentawai Islanders


Humanitarian aid organisation, SurfAid International, has launched an urgent appeal to assist the 70,000 villagers of the Mentawai Island chain, off Indonesia’s West Sumatran coast, many of whom are living under leaf and plastic huts on hills away from their villages, following two major earthquakes last week.

The four-island chain was particularly hit hard in the south, close to the earthquake epicentres, and there have been reports of some deaths, one confirmed. The traumatised communities fear another earthquake and possible tsunami.

About 60 per cent of the south Mentawai region has been destroyed or damaged, according to early data compiled by SurfAid staff, who were working in the islands when the earthquakes, measuring 8.4 and 7.9 on the Richter scale, struck on Wednesday and Thursday.

There was flooding from a 1.5m tidal/tsunami surge in some villages as well as earthquake damage. It is also monsoon season and it has been raining so people are living in the mud in dirty, cramped conditions.

They have made temporary leaf shelters on wooden platforms to try to stay dry. Food is scarce and people have flu, fevers and possibly malaria, and there have been outbreaks of diarrhea.

In the worst affected Mentawai villages, before the earthquakes, up to 32 per cent of children die, according to a UNESCO study in 2002. The majority of these deaths can be attributed to diarrhea, chest infections, bad or unclean birthing and malaria. The contributing underlying causes of these deaths are mostly due to malnutrition and anemia in children and pregnant women, both of which work to weaken the immune system.

Isolation, lack of radio or telephone communication, and a fuel crisis are hampering efforts to get to these vulnerable communities, most of which are only accessible by boat as there are less than 10km of roads in the Mentawai.

On Sunday, one woman traveled from her hamlet of 50 families in Seai Lama, on the southernmost island of South Pagai, to the town of Sikakap to alert people to the crisis: “The most important thing for us is food. Up until now we haven’t eaten. We don’t have fuel for lanterns, we don’t have anything,” she said.

SurfAid International Emergency Response Manager, Tom Plummer, said: “We have boats on standby in the main port of Padang however we are pressed to fill them with the necessary items like food, fuel, tarpaulins and construction materials. We desperately need funds. They already have massive health problems in the Mentawai which has been exacerbated by this crisis.”

The poor living conditions have left the villagers open to contracting deadly diseases such as malaria
The islands are 150km west of Padang, the capital of West Sumatra, and SurfAid staff is traveling into villages and hamlets by small boats, through the surf zone and up rivers, to assess the emergency situation, and are only just making contact with fellow staff based in the villages to get situation reports.

SurfAid’s first emergency supply boat left Padang last night (Monday 17 September) and will arrive in Sikakap on Tuesday morning.

A USAID plane, which flew over the area on the weekend to try to survey the damage, had to return to Jakarta due to poor weather conditions and low cloud cover.

SurfAid assessments have shown serious damage to houses, schools, health clinics, churches and mosques right throughout the island chain.

Nearly all the villagers are living in camps on higher ground as aftershocks continue to tremble the ground and there is a great fear of an epidemic.

You can donate to the Mentawai Earthquake Appeal through the SurfAid website at:


Just one of the gorgeous views in the Mentawai Islands
For further information please contact:

Kirk Willcox
SurfAid International Communications Director
Email: kirk@surfaidinternational.org
Office: +{{{62}}} 751 32 964 (in Padang, West Sumatra)
Mobile: +62 812 663 4937
Website: www.surfaidinternational.orgSurfAid International, Australia office:
Kristin Gomes. kristin@surfaidinternational.org
Sigrid Langker. sigrid@surfaidinternational.org
PO Box 630, North Sydney NSW 2059
Tel +61 2 9965 7325
Fax: +61 2 9955 5111SurfAid International, USA office:
Lou Niles, lou@surfaidinternational.org
191 Calle Magdalena, Ste 290, Encinitas, CA 92024
Tel ({{{760}}}) 753 1103
Fax (760) 753-1167About SurfAid International
The mission of SurfAid International, a non-profit humanitarian aid organisation, is to improve the health of people living in isolated regions connected to us through surfing. SurfAid is incorporated in the USA, Australia and New Zealand, with the program base in Tuapejat, the regional capital of the Mentawai Islands, off West Sumatra, Indonesia.