The Future is Equal

Tsunami survivors face long queues for clean water – Oxfam

Scenes of destruction in Peotbo, Indonesia, a village of some 1700 homes that was swallowed whole by the liquefaction of the soil, triggered by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake that hit Sulawesi on September 28. Photo: Andri Tambunan/Oxfam

The emergency system for distributing clean water in Palu is under strain to meet demand as thousands of people spend an eleventh night sleeping outdoors after a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, Oxfam warned today.

Oxfam water engineer Bagus Setyawan said that with the temperature often reaching 35C during the day, people were desperate for water.

“Long queues of people appear next to the water truck in the crumbling city of Palu,” Mr Setyawan said. “They may have to queue several times a day as they do not have suitable containers in which to store water.”

Water pipes were damaged in the 7.5-magnitude earthquake that struck on 28 September, and the city has become dependent on a fleet of water trucks that are under huge strain to meet demand.

Truck drivers are forced to waste valuable hours queuing to refill at the one water treatment plant in Palu.  Smaller rural communities have no electricity or fuel to pump water from the ground, and some remain cut off by landslides or damaged roads.

Mr Setyawan said there were very few toilets in the makeshift camps that had appeared in paddy rice fields and along roads to accommodate some of the city’s 70,000 evacuees.

In one location, there are just three or four toilets shared between 600 to 700 people, with many people being forced to defecate in the open. Oxfam warned that water-borne diseases can spread quickly in such circumstances.

“The water distribution network is struggling to meet demand in Palu City, let alone in smaller communities that may be more than three hours away by truck,” Mr Setyawan said.  “People are complaining about the lack of clean water and toilets. There is a desperate need for more water treatment facilities and for toilets to prevent the spread of disease.”

Oxfam is bringing in water treatment equipment that can produce 20 litres of clean water per minute from a bore hole – enough for around 500 people per day. More equipment is due to arrive in the coming days, which will increase capacity by six times.

Oxfam is distributing 1,000 hygiene kits consisting of a safe container for transporting water, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and sanitary towels.

Oxfam is working alongside a network of local organisations called the Humanitarian Knowledge Hub.

Adi Tuati, from Oxfam’s partner CIS Timor, said: “The survivors of the earthquake desperately need clean water. In this case, some survivors had a well and we were able to use a piece of equipment called a sky hydrant to purify the water ready for use.”

Donations to support Oxfam’s emergency response in Sulawesi can be made online at or by calling 0800 600 700.