Dive shops and local businesses have spun into high gear to bring earthquake relief to Lombok and the Gili Islands after a devastating 6.9 earthquake rocked northwest Lombok on Sunday 5th August, 2018. Since then a series of over 350 aftershocks have rumbled through this idyllic Indonesian getaway, known for it’s scuba diving and swaths of white sand beaches.
Literally overnight, the expatriate community on popular Gili Trawangan, became Earthquake Disaster Relief volunteers. Survivors themselves, they quickly worked to set up make-shift medical camps during the night of the quake. They tried to get victims away from danger as the sun rose. Setting up triage clinics on the beach, they fought through the stampede of suitcase-carrying tourists to get the wounded onto the limited boats available.
Indonesia in Mass Overwhelm
A poor country with over 17,000 islands to contend with, Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency is overwhelmed by the need. There are reports that the Lombok earthquake death toll is at over 400 people with an additional 350,000 people without homes. Indonesia’s disaster and rescue agencies expect these numbers to rise further. Satellite imagery shows that 75% of settlements in North Lombok, where the earthquake hit hardest, are destroyed.
Make no mistake. The local dive shops and businesses that make their livelihoods and support their families in these communities are running this earthquake relief effort. Coordinating with government officials and locals in the area, they have ground teams filling trucks with food, water, medical supplies and shelter. With their staff on the ground, they receive live updates on who needs assistance and where. With this unique advantage, they can deliver resources to those worst affected as quickly as possible.
This Is Surely Paradise
In 2014, I visited Indonesia. The Gili Islands are a group of 3 tiny islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air – off the northwest coast of Lombok Island, and a fast boat ride to Bali. Characterized by sandy beaches fringed with coconut palms, they’re known for their stunning coral reefs just offshore. I could stand on the shore of Gili Air and take in the uninterrupted views of lush and mountainous Lombok rising across the straight.
The island has no cars or motorbikes, only horses to carry you around an island small enough to run around in an hour. Lining the edges of the island are open-air restaurants and small hotels for tourists. Subsistence farmers live in the interior, land punctuated by animals and small shops. As I went for a run, five young children chased me with laughter in their eyes and wide smiles on their faces. If you ever dreamed of visiting a tropical island to “get away from it all,” you’ve dreamed of the Gili Islands. But right now it needs our help.
It Takes an Island to Save an Island
Lombok and the Gili Islands are not merely adjacent. They are intertwined. While Lombok is much bigger than the Gili Islands, they rely upon each other, to attract tourism, provide infrastructure and support services, and employ their communities who serve tourists, a primary source of income.
The expat business community has joined forces with their local communities to resurrect the earthquake-damaged infrastructure. Recreational and technical dive instructors are adapting their skills to meet the immediate needs of the community. As they attempt to restore water to towers and repair the damage caused by the quake, they have become everything from electricians to extreme rock climbers. These people who love these islands are applying their skills to bring an imploded community back to life.
For Anyone Who’s Ever Been in a Disaster Zone, It’s Chaotic
In a disaster zone, there is a need for organization, speed, and concentration of efforts. It is often the expats on the ground that are the most efficient because they are connected already. They are also often the most likely to have a sustained effort. From short term relief to long-term rebuilding, when the NGOs leave, they stay. The dive shops alone have raised over 80,000GBP so far.
Members of this Blue Ocean community may know a member of the relief efforts, filmmaker Adrienne Gittus, as an ADEX Singapore speaker. She’s a talented filmmaker who recently directed the award-winning documentary “A Fish Full of Dollars” based in Lombok, and was a resident of Gili Trawangan for four-and-a-half years. Not present at the time of the earthquake, Adrienne became a part of the media team for this relief effort when her Bali home became an adhoc center for earthquake relief efforts after the evacuation of tourists from the Gilis and Lombok. The group moved quickly into action mode.
“Basically we got the call that water and noodles and rice were needed. So we just went to the wholesale suppliers that we knew in Bali. We have a whole team of people on supplies, finding us the best prices…Once we get the three basic necessities nailed down, which is food, shelter, water, we can start doing specific orders for medical supplies.” – Seth Emerick,Tir Na Nog Irish Bar, Gili Trawangan
At this stage, the 60+ earthquake relief team has stopped receiving orders for bulk emergency supplies. This is good news and reflects the Herculean relief efforts done by so few. Now their priority is to stabilize the community, by assisting with ongoing medical issues and rebuilding infrastructure. Moving towards long-term projects, they want to focus on rebuilding homes for staff–70% of whom lost their homes.
“I chose to stay behind because this island is my home now, and before I moved out here to become a dive instructor I was a fabricator and welder for most of my working life…I feel I’ve been able to help this situation for sure. Everyone that is still on the island has a variety of skill sets which are all very useful in this situation, we are all able to bounce off each other to come up with the best solution for any issues we get. We are not just a team, we are a community and we all love this island and want to do everything we can to bring it back, by not only rebuilding this island but by also making sure the people who work on this island to support their families are able to return back to earn the money to help rebuild their homes. We are raising money for them as well but most of the staff are already wanting to come back to work to get going with their lives again” – Dive Instructor Neil Baxter
No Amount is Too Small
Investing your charitable donations to a direct effort is one of the most effective ways of having impact on relief in this disaster zone. No amount is too small and every penny directly delivers essential services. On their Go Fund Me pages (links below), you’ll find a breakdown of what your money buys and where it goes.
With increased weather extremes due to climate change, or geological upheaval, there is no doubt that we will continue to face dire disasters. Mother nature is talking. So, each of us must ask ourselves how we will respond. This is an opportunity to do what you can as an individual. The need is now to get this island ecosystem back on its feet.
Here are Links to Donate to the Earthquake Relief Efforts:
Main Go Fund Me Page: www.gofundme.com/lombok-earthquake-support
Blue Marlin: www.gofundme.com/earthquake-relief-for-blue-marlin
Dive Central: www.gofundme.com/rebuild-the-dcg-boys-homes
Trawangan Dive: www.gofundme.com/earthquake-relief-trawangan-dive
Manta Dive: www.gofundme.com/earthquake-relief-manta-dive-staff?member=568424
Tourism Dollars as Relief Effort Contributions
Although a number of businesses have sadly been forced to close indefinitely, it is important to get as many of the staff who mostly come from Lombok, back to work, so they can start rebuilding their lives. Reliant on the Gili Islands for income, the local staff in Lombok are currently displaced from their homes and living in emergency shelters. Yet the Gilis are technically open for tourism, with a couple of businesses operating and a number of dive shops intending to reopen as early as September 1, 2018. If you have been planning to go to this area, your tourism dollars could have a big impact in helping this beautiful community get back on solid ground.
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