Work continues to help protect people in the event of another natural disaster.

In 2011, Islamic Relief and OCHA studied the potential of running a religious building-based disaster preparedness project. Preliminary Study on the Potential Role of the Mosque in disaster situation in Indonesia looked at the role of six mosques in West Sumatra and West Java.

Religious buildings were the focus of the study because residents often seek sanctuary in religious buildings. This is both because of their accessibility and because psychologically they offer a sense of security and safety. People often believe a disaster is God’s will and so wish to be  closer to God by attending the mosque. A mosque is also a gathering place, and people, when threatened, naturally want to come together.

Withstanding disaster

Evidence is in favour of the use of mosques in disaster preparation and recovery. There are a series of roles that can be tapped into, and a structure that can be replicated; the Iman, which translates as ‘elder’ or ‘head’, provides strong leadership that a community already responds to. The building usually also has toilets, warehouse logistics, minarets, and a sound system, so it offers potential as an information centre and an evacuation site. A mosque is a place of worship and has, in the past, functioned as a government centre, education centre, military base, and trade centre. People are therefore used to turning to it to fulfil their needs.

A mosque is also likely to withstand natural disaster. It is often built with the best materials and using the best techniques. Many mosques remained standing, following the 2004 tsunami. Research found it was because their structure relied on columns, which allowed the water to flow through the buildings.

Rapid assessment

The findings of the report led to a new Islamic Relief project, rolled out in 2013, to train people from religious buildings on how to reduce the impact of disasters. Five mosques and one church in two of the most disaster-prone provinces in Indonesia underwent disaster risk reduction (DRR) training. Training included when to raise awareness about filling up on emergency stocks and how to use communication devices and rescue equipment.

Relief workers looking for survivors after the 2004 tsunami.

Relief workers looking for survivors after the 2004 tsunami.

Each centre developed a hazard map, evacuation route and awareness materials. They were provided with stretchers, ropes, first aid kits, tents, loudspeakers, generators, kitchen sets, industrial torches and seeds to regrow plants that could be destroyed in a disaster.

The programme saw 1,160 people trained in skills such as rapid assessment and search and rescue.

The same year, Islamic Relief started working with local partner PKPU to deliver a disaster preparedness programme in three schools in Aceh. The scheme identified and improved “infrastructure vulnerabilities”, such as fragile roofs, unstable bookcases, and broken roads.

Teachers, students, parents and the wider community were also offered training in preparing for disasters and working together to reduce their impact, as well as early warning systems and evacuation routes.