Recovering from a double disaster in Palu

The World Food Programme (WFP) is providing logistics support to recovery efforts after the earthquake and tsunami that hit Indonesia on 28 September

Kate Walton
World Food Programme Insight
3 min readOct 26, 2018


The official death toll for the earthquake and tsunami stands at 2,200. Photo: WFP/Djuna Bewley/WFP

At a glance, the destruction seems random. Driving north from Palu City along the coast of the bay, most villages appear to be fine, then suddenly a whole swathe lies in ruins, washed away by the tsunami or drowned in mud when the land below liquefied.

The official death toll for the double disaster — a 7.4 magnitude earthquake and a multiple-wave tsunami — that hit Central Sulawesi on 28 September 2018 now stands at 2,200. Thousands more are believed to be missing and are likely to never be found after their villages collapsed, houses and places of worship sinking into the mud. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced, living in tents in parks or official camps, or even moving temporarily to different islands to live with family.

The remains of a mosque in Balaroa, where liquefaction destroyed the village and killed hundreds. Photo: WFP/Djuna Bewley

In villages like Balaroa and Petobo, an unusual natural phenomenon known as liquefaction occurred when the earthquake hit. The ground became over-saturated with water and turned into a form of quicksand. Buildings, rice fields and palm trees sunk into the mud, disappearing almost instantly, or were dragged hundreds of metres away. Many of the people missing in these villages will probably never be found.

Back in Palu City, more than two weeks later, even residents whose houses are still standing report that they feel too traumatised to live in them, and prefer to camp outside, entering only to bathe or cook. They fear another quake.

For those unable to return home, community kitchens are providing thousands of meals every day. Many are run by the Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs, the Indonesian Army or voluntary disaster preparedness teams, while others are run by civil society organizations from across the nation. Every day, the kitchens serve up table-loads of nasi bungkus — a simple but nutritious package of rice, fish, vegetables, and chilli sauce wrapped in brown paper.

Community kitchen in Palu are serving thousands of meals a day. Photo: WFP/Djuna Bewley

WFP is assisting the Government of Indonesia in responding to the Central Sulawesi disaster through providing logistics support. Massive storage tents have been erected at the airport and throughout the affected region to ensure that relief supplies are distributed quickly and effectively. A fleet of trucks move aid to where it is needed.

But cleaning up and rebuilding will take time. All along the shore of Palu Bay, the hum and crash of excavators working to clear rubble echoes across newly-emptied land. The port is not yet functioning — its cargo cranes toppled with the force of the tsunami — but markets and shops are re-opening, and life is slowly beginning to get back to normal. The local government says it is developing a two-year development plan for the region, and will build temporary shelter for displaced people before the end of the year. WFP will continue to support with logistics, as well as helping local governments and communities become more prepared for future natural disasters.

Loading a WFP truck with supplies at Palu airport as a storm approaches. Photo: WFP/Djuna Bewley

Learn more about WFP’s emergency preparedness and response