‘There are so many earthquakes, it is normal for us’: Lombok villagers on life with frequent aftershocks
KAYANGAN, North Lombok: “Don’t worry! You are safe here,” Hamdani, a villager in North Lombok reassured me, slightly amused at my nervousness of standing at a site that was still suffering the aftermath of a deadly earthquake-triggered landslide.
"'How frequent are these earthquakes?', 'How many people have died?'": I rattled off a list of questions to Hamdani as I tried to quell my anxiety.
On the streets, villagers stood outside their homes, anxiously chatting with each other - but not panicking. Mothers carried their crying infants, rocking them gently.
Tucked in the highlands of North Lombok, the villagers in Sambik Jengkel Perigi are used to frequent aftershocks, particularly after a series of earthquakes rocked the Indonesian island in July and August last year.
Eight residents from the village perished in last year’s quakes, which left more than 500 dead and 150,000 homeless across the entire holiday island.
On Sunday (Mar 17), the island was hit again by two earthquakes, triggering landslides that killed three people - including two Malaysian tourists - and injured more than 180.
But the villagers remain unfazed by the tremors.
“After the big earthquake in August, we have had about a thousand aftershocks. In a week, we experience it about three to four times,” said Hamdani, a corn salesman from the village.
“Some are small, and some are big,” he said with a shrug. “There are so many earthquakes here that it is normal for us.”
Another villager, Sahrim, 44, said: “Yes, it is traumatic for us, but it is also normal.”
His wife, Jamisah, however, is still terrified after Sunday’s tremors because it brings back painful memories of last year’s events.
“I have experienced this before but I was still scared to sleep inside so I slept outside on our gazebo,” said Jamisah, 45.
Indonesia, one of the most disaster-prone nations on earth, straddles the Pacific Ring of Fire, where tectonic plates collide. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are common.
“WHAT OUR PEOPLE NEED ARE HOUSES”
In Sambik Jengkel Perigi, much of the infrastructure in the village has been reduced to rubble because of the earthquakes last August.
Before then, concrete houses and clear pathways for motorists dotted the village.
Two English schools, set up locally to aid the children in their pursuit of the language, lined the streets.
Much of this, except for a handful of houses, has been destroyed. In their place lie rubble, broken pipes, stray bricks and shattered slabs of concrete.
All that is left standing in the village are temporary makeshift houses made of wood and bamboo that are unlikely to cause serious injury if they collapsed during an earthquake, Hamdani said.
“After last year’s tremors, this place has changed. It is not clean and not as nice as it was,” said Ira, 36, a mother of one.
Despite the constant aftershocks in the village, their priority remains getting proper housing.
“What our people need are houses ... stronger houses made of wood and aluminium so we can be safe,” Hamdani said.
“THE ONLY WAY FOR US IS TO SURRENDER TO OUR FATE”
Seven months after the devastating August earthquake, the villagers are still waiting for more aid to help rebuild their destroyed homes.
Volunteers have extended their help to rebuild toilet facilities, houses and other infrastructure, but the locals are also attempting to try and salvage the remains of their village through their own efforts.
“I still worry,” said Hamdani, adding that the temporary houses do not last long and that wood and bamboo used to make the houses deteriorate faster during the rainy seasons.
Many villagers are also fearful of another major earthquake.
“We have no preparations if major earthquakes strike us again. The only way is for us to surrender to our fate,” Ira said.
Several organisations have also been actively providing assistance to Lombok.
According to Lombok Forgotten Children emergency aid foundation, the people of Lombok need the financial aid the government promised them.
“This (money for housing) is slow to come … This is the first priority to reduce the greatest amount of suffering,” said Mr Peter Honey, foundation coordinator of Lombok Forgotten Children.
A spokesperson for Indonesia Aid said the primary focus at the moment is meeting water supply and clean water needs.
“Indonesia Aid has made a long-term commitment to villages in Northern Lombok and currently has a full time presence in Lombok,” said the spokesperson. “Our primary focus at the moment is meeting water supply and clean water needs."
“We are doing that through the delivery of water and the distribution of water filters, with volunteers providing the needed training to use the filters properly.”
Amid the hardship and suffering however, Hamdani remains optimistic.
“Life must go on. We cannot wait until there aren’t any earthquakes anymore,” said Hamdani.
“We must think about how we can help the kids because we still live in hard conditions. Our village spirit remains strong to rebuild.”