BANDA ACEH—As the extent of earthquake damage on the Indonesian island of Nias becomes clearer, Oxfam is scaling up its operations. An estimated 75,000 people still lack shelter, and aftershocks continue to terrify the island's inhabitants. Many people remain in the hills, fearful of a tsunami, while as many as 20,000 more have fled the island—though most people cannot afford to leave.
A team from Oxfam's tsunami response program in Aceh, on Sumatra, flew to Nias within 12 hours of the March 28 earthquake centered off the island. The agency now has 73 staff members in Nias, including 60 from the island, who have succeeded in setting up emergency water supplies for much of the island's major town, Gunungsitoli. Oxfam has become the lead agency on Nias for water and sanitation and its engineers are now working with the local water authority to restore the town's shattered distribution system.
"We're getting on top of the problems in the main town," says Gareth Price Jones, Oxfam International's project manager on Gunungsitoli. "But we have to get into the interior of the island and find out what's going on. There are 10,000 people in Lahewa, in the northwest, with no water. Today we managed to get a team up there. We think we can get that fixed with a couple of days' work."
Casualties from the earthquake now officially number about 600. But roads severely damaged by the quake have made it difficult to visit and conduct assessments of villages in the mountainous interior.
In addition to its work on water, Oxfam and its Indonesian partner agencies have distributed five tons of rice, as well as clothing, blankets and jerry cans for 5,000 people. The agency has provided emergency shelter for 2,250 people and has evacuated many critically injured people by helicopter.
Oxfam will soon distribute 1,000 additional shelter kits in rural areas and complete assessments across the rural north that will help in determining how best to help the rural population.