Amanda Ripley

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Human Behavior in Indonesia

5th Oct 2009 posted in Disaster Behavior

In Indonesia, emergency workers are having a very hard time getting into several remote villages devastated by last Wednesday’s 7.6-magnitude earthquake. As we’ve seen in every major disaster in history, regular people matter more than anyone else in the darkness of these voids. During the golden hours when rescue is possible, civilians do much of the lifesaving—and they are capable of remarkable creativity. It is wrenching and inspiring at once.

A few examples out of Indonesia:

“Every day on the road to Pariaman, a hard-hit district in the north, four or five women gather to make heaping plates of food for a village of 200, while their husbands collect donations from cars driving by.”—Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 5, 2009

“On one block in the city’s Chinese quarter, workers at a coal concern and a truck rental company set up a base from which they dispatched much-needed earth-moving vehicles across the city.”—New York Times, Oct. 4, 2009

“In a district north of the hard-hit city of Padang, stricken residents said they’d seen no rescue workers. Most structures there had been leveled, and people were using shovels and their bare hands to clear landslides and dig out bodies.”—CBS News, Oct. 2, 2009

I highlight these stories not just because they are poignant but because they are evidence for what we need to do differently. In every country, we can do more to appreciate regular people—and invest in their training and knowledge—before we need them most.

Check out a story from Mercy Corps about how small investments in regular people helped a village survive last week.