EnvironmentFood & HealthSurvival

Oft-Overlooked Survival Hygiene

“Now, this bucket with soap and detergent feels like luxury wedding presents for our family. We need them badly…”

For most of us, personal hygiene is part of our daily routine. When routine is disrupted by unforeseen circumstances, like the three successive natural disasters described below, hygiene can be overlooked. Soap and clean, disinfected water can make a tremendous difference in the quality of health of those who are affected by circumstances such as these. Personal daily inspections (morning and night) can prevent health problems caused by poor hygiene. Do you have plans for a hygiene kit that includes: “soap, detergent, toothbrushes, toothpaste and towels…?”

UNICEF delivers life-saving hygiene kits in West Sumatra earthquake zone

ANJUNGSARI, Indonesia, 9 October, 2009 – Children and families in Tanjungsari, a hamlet located in the Agam District of Indonesia’s West Sumatra province, recently endured three successive – and massive – natural disasters.

First, on 30 September, an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter-scale destroyed most of the houses in the village, which is nestled in the mountainous landscape around Maninjau Lake. Then an aftershock caused the area’s limestone cliffs to cave in. Finally, several nights of torrential rain triggered a mudslide that buried the remaining rubble.

Nearly 2,000 local residents were forced to seek shelter in a traditional West Sumatran communal house in the nearby town market, while many of the men stayed behind to guard their homesteads. What remains of Tanjungsari is now accessible only by motorbike, as the roads are blocked by huge boulders and 1.5-metres of mud.

This week, however, the quake survivors here received some of the 40,000 hygiene kits that UNICEF has rushed to the province. Packed in plastic buckets, the kits contain essential household supplies, including soap, detergent, toothbrushes, toothpaste and towels.

Challenge of aid distribution

Marni Majid, 52, watched her daughter Mirna, 20, get married at the communal house just three days after the earthquake. Her father had to stay behind in Tanjungsari, and the celebration was bare-bones, without “even sugar in the jasmine tea,” the mother said.

“Now, this bucket with soap and detergent feels like luxury wedding presents for our family. We need them badly,” she added.

The lack of sanitation facilities is raising concerns about potential disease outbreaks. To head off that threat, UNICEF is working with the International Organization of Migration to distribute the hygiene kits to affected areas in and around Agam District.

There is no shortage of aid supplies, but distribution challenges remain – particularly in areas where roads and communication systems have been destroyed or badly damaged. Bad weather, which is expected to continue for the next few days, is also hampering distribution efforts and triggering concern about more landslides.

At the market, built in the 1930s, women gathered around to speak about what time they will take their daily bath. They are currently using a volcanic lake as a water source, and have requested water purification tablets and a water bladder for storage. These, too, will be brought into West Sumatra by UNICEF as quickly as road access allows.

Rapid response

To date, UNICEF has handed over nearly 3,000 hygiene kits and a similar number of jerry cans to the province’s Ministry of Public Works, while 24 water bladders have gone to the government water company and to a hospital in the provincial capital of Padang.

There have been no reports of a rise in communicable diseases thus far, underlining the importance of such a rapid response to safeguard water supplies.

UNICEF is preparing leaflets and posters to educate people in isolated villages about improving their hygiene and sanitation practices. The materials cover such topics as the importance of handwashing with soap and the need to boil water meant for consumption – simple actions can save lives in the aftermath of a disaster.

“This small improvement not only demonstrates to affected people that basic services are being prioritized in the relief effort, but also protects them from any potential outbreaks of water-borne disease,” said UNICEF Indonesia Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Specialist Claire Quillet, who is assisting the emergency response from Padang.

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