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Indonesia earthquake: What has happened?

19 January 2021
Asia - Indonesia - Aid is being delivered after the earthquake and tsunami

Caritas aid workers on the ground in Indonesia have a wealth of experience responding to this type of disaster.

What is the news on the most recent earthquakes to hit Indonesia? 

In the early hours of Friday 15 January 2021, the Indonesian island of Sulawesi was hit by two earthquakes, measuring 5.9 and 6.2 in magnitude. So far 35 people have been reported dead, more than 600 injured and at least 15,000 people have been displaced.

Following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit the island in 2018, local organisations had robust plans in place to respond quickly in an emergency.

Immediately after the earthquake hit the Island, Caritas Makassar - the closest local diocese - sent volunteers to conduct a rapid assessment. They are now working with local parish priests in the affected areas to obtain the latest data and developments.

CAFOD, alongside Caritas Indonesia (KARINA), is currently supporting the response carried out by Caritas Makassar. And, Caritas Indonesia is planning to deploy staff to the affected area.

Please keep the people of Indonesia in your thoughts and prayers

What happened in the 2018 earthquake and tsunami?

  • On 28 September 2018, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake and tsunami struck Central Sulawesi Province, Indonesia.

  • More than 4,340 people lost their lives and more than 11,000 people were seriously injured.

  • Waves of up to 20 feet hit the city of Palu – which is home to more than 300,000 people. 

In total, around two million people were affected across 85 districts, and over 220,000 displaced people had to live in evacuation centres or informal camps, with many more staying with relatives or friends. 

On Saturday 22 December 2018 a second tsunami hit the coast of Sunda. The tsunami is thought to have been caused by the eruption of Anak Krakatoa volcano, which may have triggered underwater landslides. The tsunami resulted in hundreds more deaths and injuries. 

How did CAFOD respond to the Indonesian tsunami and earthquake in 2018?

Our local aid experts on the ground were able to reach thousands of people with emergency assistance and the tools to start rebuilding their lives.

CAFOD supporters across England and Wales raised over £500,000 to help the communities who are most in need.  

Immediately following the disaster, we supported over 10,000 people with vital humanitarian aid, including:

  • tarpaulins and ropes for emergency shelters

  • hygiene kits

  • mosquito nets

  • blankets

  • cooking essentials

  • clean water - to cover basic needs and stop the spread of disease.

Our emergency response programme targeted the most heavily affected districts of Palu, Sigi, and Donggala. Our local emergency experts have also reached over 15,000 people affected by the disaster with cash transfers so they can start rebuilding their homes, washing facilities and businesses. 

Asia - Indonesia - Mosque partially submerged in sea

A mosque stands partially submerged in the sea in Palu, Indonesia, in the aftermath of the tsunami and earthquake. Photo credit: Yael Eshel

We also provided technical training on ‘Building Back Safer’ techniques to ensure people are able to build homes that can withstand future disasters. We have helped more than 500 families move into their new, safer homes.

In a country where 40% of the population, or around 90 million people, are vulnerable to ‎disasters, this earthquake and tsunami in Sulawesi – along with other emergencies in Lombok (5 August 2018) and Sunda Strait (23 December 2018) – highlighted a need for training on how to prepare for a disaster among the general population.

Our experts in disaster risk reduction have trained over 1,000 community members on how to reduce risks during a disaster and to rebuild using disaster-resistant techniques. With this training, they will be able to share knowledge and practices with their communities, so they can create community action plans and everyone can be better prepared next time a disaster strikes.

Learn more about our Emergency Response Team

What was it like when the earthquake struck in 2018? 

Nining, 25, was a farmworker for a water spinach farm in Jono Oge, Sigi. On the afternoon of the earthquake, Nining was travelling to work when the earthquake struck.

“The house by the field collapsed. The earth shook very hard, I couldn’t stand up straight.”

Asia - Indonesia - Tsunami - Emergency

Nining (25) with her youngest daughter Tiara (3) at their emergency shelter in Jono Oge, Sigi.


Support our Emergency Response Team

The Emergency Response Team is funded by our loyal regular donors who have chosen to specifically support our emergencies work.

Many humanitarian situations can escalate quickly so having regular donations that we can depend on gives us the flexibility and agility we need to respond and react to emergencies whenever they strike.

Nining describes the panic she felt as she raced home to her two young daughters Tiwi (7) and Tiara (3) who she had left at home. “I left my scooter on the side of the road and ran home immediately.”

When she arrived home, the ground had cracked open and everywhere was covered in mud.

Luckily, her husband Yulius, 30, and her mother-in-law were home and guided the children to safety. They ran to higher ground, eventually arriving in a field that later became a camp.

Since the disaster, Yulius, a pig farmer who sold to small restaurants, has become the sole breadwinner of the family.

Pray for the people of Indonesia

“Yulius still has some pigs left after the earthquake,” said Nining. “He used to have 10 pigs, but some escaped and some died. A sow had a miscarriage.

“I passed the field where I used to work the other day and there were a lot of weeds already, but my employer hasn’t contacted me. My scooter was still there.”

After the disaster, Nining and other families in the area received help from CAFOD’s local aid agency, CRS:

“I received a mosquito net, a jerry can, a bucket, toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, shampoo, detergent, dishwashing soap, and a water pail. The mosquito net is very helpful, especially when you have small children like I do.”

“Now, I spend most of my time taking care of my children. I [just] want my kids to be healthy.” 

How did aid get through to those most in need?

There were challenges to delivering aid to people affected by the earthquake and tsunami, including roads that had been blocked from landslides. Caritas aid workers were having to make journeys on foot where roads were blocked by debris. The Indonesian authorities worked on clearing the roads, so that aid deliveries were able to get to where they are needed most. 

Asia - Indonesia Tsunami - Delivering Aid

Caritas Indonesia preparing to distribute aid in Palu to families affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

How did we coordinate our response with others?

CAFOD joined forces with the Disasters Emergency Committee to allow our Caritas colleagues to scale up their emergency response in Indonesia. So far, the DEC Indonesia tsunami appeal has raised over £23 million from UK donations to help families across the affected region.    

Thanks to the funds raised, we have been able to reach some of the most vulnerable families traumatised by disaster and in urgent need. 

In the days and weeks following the disaster, our Caritas aid workers worked in Palu and other affected areas to support communities – transporting 7 tonnes of rice, canned sardines, 500 boxes of drinking water, 250 packages of blankets, hygiene kits, water buckets, tarpaulins, mats and sarongs to those who needed them the most.  

As a member of Caritas International, we have been coordinating closely with other Catholic agencies to ensure that our response is as efficient and effective as possible. 

Caritas Indonesia has an existing network of staff and volunteers in two dioceses near the affected area – Makassar in South Sulawesi and Manado in North Sulawesi – and they are working with our Caritas colleagues, and liaising with the Indonesian government and UN agencies, to get help to those who need it most. 

As part of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), we work together with fourteen major British aid agencies to ensure that we are not duplicating our efforts.