Operation Palu: Drones, diplomacy and clean water

“The first site of where the tsunami hit, the areas of liquefaction, the damage the buildings have suffered is so difficult to comprehend. The devastation, destruction and loss –it leaves you speechless.”
Liquefaction during the ‘quake claimed many lives 📷TRUK

When a powerful earthquake and tsunami hit the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on 28 September, Team Rubicon rushed to the aid of the stricken communities.

Two months on from the disaster, we look back at the work we have done so far.

The seafront at Palu 📷Arete Stories/Lewis Inman

The earthquake –the worst to hit the region since 2006– caused major soil liquefaction in areas in and around the city of Palu, and a death toll of at least 2,100.

Many more are still missing because of the mudslides that swept away entire villages.

Greyshirt Westy surveys the devastation in Palu 📷TRUK

Getting to the areas most affected by this terrible disaster wasn’t easy, but by working closely with Indonesian authorities, local NGO Aksi Cepat Tanggap, and thanks to the relentless dedication of our Greyshirts, we were able to provide life-saving support to the people of Sulawesi.

Roads and infrastructure were in ruin after the disaster 📷TRUK

Our first major task, together with colleagues from Team Rubicon Australia, was to carry out damage assessments on behalf of the Indonesian Board for Disaster Management.

The drone team’s work was vital for disaster mapping 📷Lewis Inman/Arete Stories

This important work enabled officials to map out the true extent of the destruction, and a presentation from our team was used to brief the United Nations Secretary General.

Greyshirts not only trod on the ground in Palu, but walked the corridors of power in the capital city, Jakarta –building relationships and establishing how we could assist Indonesian authorities in helping their people.

Greyshirt Keith and ACT workers show their delight as clean water flows 📷TRUK

Tireless and important work in Jakarta meant that our team could get out with ACT and provide clean water to several camps in need in the areas surrounding Palu.

Greyshirt Maria shows some children how to check if the water is clean📷TRUK

With six water purifiers working in the region, and 12 Lifestraw kits in use, courtesy of Team Rubicon Global, we hope to provide clean, safe water to around 12,000 beneficiaries.

“It’s hard to explain the feeling when you have done all the preparation for the purification on a site and the clean water emerges from the end of the pipe.
It’s intensely hot and humid, you are tired, it’s late, you drink to show the villagers it’s clean, they drink, they smile, they thank you in a very Indonesian way — a coupled hand handshake and a bow and a sincere “Terima kasih”.
The children are excited and drink from the pipe.”
The team and beneficiaries at Duluri camp 📷TRUK

Team Rubicon UK is one of only a small number of international organisations with permission to operate in Indonesia. We have established strong relationships with key government departments and local humanitarian charities which means –we hope– that we are in an even better position to help the people of Indonesia if disaster should strike again.

Operations Response Manager Paul Taylor said:

“This has been a challenging operation but the videos the team sent back from Palu of the locals drinking clean water have made all the long days and nights worthwhile and are a worthy testament to the tenacity and commitment of our volunteers – and to the fact that forging enduring relationships with local humanitarians and the affected population can help to deliver a successful outcome.”

Team Rubicon is a disaster relief charity that uses mostly ex-military volunteers to provide life-saving aid to those who need it most. You can find out more about us here.


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