Image of Dika who lives in an Indonesian community that was impacted by the earthquake.

Dika, 11, lives in a coastal community north of Palu City, not far from the epicenter of the 2018 earthquake. His school is no longer in use because it was badly damaged by the earthquake. Credit: Roy Rey/Save the Children.

Indonesia: Two-Thirds of Schools in Central Sulawesi Remain Damaged One Year After Devastating Earthquake and Tsunami

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (Sept. 27, 2019)—One year after a devastating 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck central Sulawesi, an estimated 67 percent of schools in the three districts where Save the Children operates through its partner Yayasan Sayangi Tunas Cilik (YSTC) are still damaged.

Of the 865 schools that are still damaged in Palu, Sigi, and Dongala, 473 – or more than half – are so badly affected they remain too dangerous to use, forcing children to learn in temporary classrooms where they have to attend in shifts due to a lack of space.

Over the past year, only 434 schools have secured money for rebuilding from the government, private sector, UN, and other organizations, out of a total 1,299 that were affected by the earthquake and resulting tsunami, landslides, and liquefaction.

Despite the difficulties, remarkable recovery is taking place in central Sulawesi, driven by a resilient and determined community. Businesses are slowly reopening, homes are being repaired, and temporary schools are providing education to thousands of children. But one year on, more than 160,000 people remain displaced and many remote communities are just one landslide away from being cut off entirely from the outside world with no access to vital public services.

Putri is twelve years old. She attends one of Save the Children’s temporary learning centers as her school was completely destroyed due to liquefaction—a phenomenon whereby solid ground turns to liquid following or during an earthquake. She barely escaped with her life. Now she lives with her parents and younger brother in a temporary shelter provided by the government.  

“Both my house and my school were affected by liquefaction,” Putri told Save the Children. “I remember, on the day of the earthquake, I was riding on a motorbike with my cousin, when I noticed the coconut trees were moving, the ground started melting, everything turned into mud. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t even cry because I was so scared. A huge wall of mud was moving towards me. I just ran as far away as I could. I saw that my house had disappeared. My school had disappeared. I managed to find my aunt near my house. She was crying. I was so frightened by all the mud, it destroyed everything in its path.”   

Dika is eleven years old and lives in a remote coastal community 60 miles north of Palu City, not far from the epicenter of the 2018 earthquake. The quake badly damaged his school and making it too dangerous to use. One year on, it’s still in disrepair.

“I felt sad when I saw the state of my school after the earthquake,” Dika told Save the Children. “We had to go to classes in a tent, but it was so hot in there and when it rained everything got wet. Now we have a [temporary] classroom but I miss my old school. I was comfortable there. It was cool and clean and big enough for me to study and play. I wish I could get my old school back.”

“Children are still traumatized by what they experienced last year,” said Selina Sumbung, Chairperson of YSTC, Save the Children’s partner in Indonesia. “Many lost their homes, schools, and all their belongings, some even lost loved ones. They tell us they’re too scared to enter damaged buildings.

“It’s vital we rebuild classrooms to withstand natural disasters so children can return to a normal routine and focus on learning and playing in schools that are safe and sound. We must also prepare parents, children, and teachers to respond to future incidents as this is a disaster-prone part of the world and it could happen again at any time.

“Rebuilding after an earthquake can take years, so it’s no surprise that we still have a long way to go despite the best efforts of the Indonesian government, civil society, and aid groups. One year on, we need to prioritize reconstruction and recovery, not just of buildings but of people too, especially children, many of whom need emotional support to help them deal with their traumatic experiences. With nearly 3,900 schools across Indonesia located in tsunami-prone areas, and at least one significant volcanic eruption and one major earthquake in the country every year, integrating the experiences of children and youth is essential to building long-term resilience.”    

“My biggest priority is repairing the hundreds of schools that remain damaged so children can return to permanent classrooms,” said Ansyar Suitiadi, District Head of Education, City of Palu. “We also need to teach people what they should do in the event of another earthquake or tsunami to protect themselves and their belongings. For our part, the government must ensure schools are rebuilt to the strictest building standards. Sadly, we are restricted by a lack of funds. I need an additional $11 m just to rebuild the schools in Palu City. The task at hand is immense.” 

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