earthquake response Aceh

When Aceh was hit by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake on December 7, an alliance of mostly Indonesian aid organizations was quick to come with a joint earthquake response in the epicenter.

Investing in preparedness pays off

A two years emergency response capacity building program investing in disaster preparedness and response training for 7 Indonesian organizations by Cordaid and CRS was now put into practice. And this local Indonesian relief alliance – the Emergency Response Capacity Building network (ERCB) which was set up after the program – amply shows that the investments pay off.

Combining forces

Though the earthquake was a medium size disaster, its impact is considerable: it killed over a hundred people, injured many hundreds, damaged 11.000 houses and displaced 85.000 women, children and men. Pidie Jaya, the district nearest to the epicenter, took the hardest blows.

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Destroyed and damaged houses in Aceh (photo’s: Pusaka)

Within days concerted action was taken by ERCB members, all of whom have specific fields of expertise: Pusaka known for its shelter and child protection work, Bina Swadaya with its track record in early livelihood recovery and WASH programs, Perdhaki focusing on medical services, health and hygiene and Karina (Caritas Indonesia) which has expertise in shelter, NFI and has a broad emergency response network on national level.

Helping villages to bounce back

Fatwa Fadillah, chairman of the ERCB and director of Pusaka, explains: “We saw that many relief efforts were not effective as they were centralized and not reaching the worst affected and isolated communities. Huge IDP camps were set up, which is necessary, but not enough was done to reach the villages. That’s why we decided to concentrate our combined efforts in two of the hardest hit villages of Pidie Jaya, Jijiem and Tampui.”

After rapid joint assessments and swift international fund raising – amongst others from Cordaid’s fast track fund – the ERCB is now helping 475 households to recover and bounce back.

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ERCB members coordinating a joint earthquake response right after the earthquake (photo: Pusaka)

Here’s a selection of what is being done in the two months after the disaster:

  • Residents receive cash grants and technical assistance to build safe and durable temporary shelters; as well as bedding material and tools to maintain the emergency shelter;
  • washing, bathing and latrine facilities are being built or repaired;
  • aid workers distribute hygiene kits (soap, sanitary napkins, toothpaste and brushes and other items) and stimulate health promoting behavior.


Fatwa Fadillah, ERCB Chairman

A safe place to live in

Fatwa Fadillah: “We already see that people’s health – especially children’s health – is rapidly deteriorating after the earthquake. What they need is a clean place to wash, to cook, to go to the toilet – they shouldn’t be forced to do all that in the river. They need a safe place to live in, and they need it fast. That’s what this joint emergency response is all about.”

More effective, less expensive

Cordaid’s humanitarian aid expert Inge Leuverink praises ERCB’s swift response. “Very often NGO’s focus on their own projects and try to outmarch others when it comes to fundraising. But instead of competing, ERCB members sat together very fast, did a rapid assessment and came with a joint proposal for donors. It’s efficient, it combines forces and has less overhead expenses.”

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A resident of Tampui village without any temporary shelter (photo: Pusaka)

The Indonesian relief alliance was set up in 2013, as the outcome of a series of disaster preparedness and response trainings by Cordaid and CRS. The alliance succesfuly tested its emergency response joint protocol for the first time after the eruption of mount Sinabung in North Sumatra in December 2015.


Inge Leuverink, Cordaid humanitarian aid expert

Local response capacity is crucial…

Inge Leuverink: “I am particularly proud that the alliance continued after the program ended and now shows its added value and stands on its own feet.  In most disasters it is still the international agencies that dominate the emergency response. Wherever possible Cordaid wants to build local response capacity. The challenge is often that local NGOs are small and therefore an alliance of several NGOs that combine forces is key. In a short span of time the ERCB managed to organize and roll out a joint humanitarian effort. This demands good communication, alignment of procedures, logistics and practices. And it means that collective interests have to take precedence over the wishes and demands of individual organizations. And we all know the devil is in the details. The alliance handled this very well.”

…and needs to be supported

Leuverink has another plea to the international donor community: “There is a lot of talking internationally on the importance of emergency preparedness and capacity building of local actors in emergency response. But the investments are still very limited, because  it’s less visible and less easy to sell to the public, funders won’t easily pay for it. Funding what I call the software – preparedness, smooth and swift collaboration – is much more difficult than finding funds for the hardware – like cyclone shelters and tents. That’s a disaster in itself as emergency preparedness has so much impact on the success of any emergency response.”

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