The Force of Water

Song of supplies

Simeulue island, Indonesia, 1907–2004  

Long ago, this island was hit by a tsunami that killed many of its inhabitants. The many generations since have told stories and sung songs about a great danger, Smong, that may arrive from sea after an earthquake. The songs have the following message: “In a big earthquake, immediately note the sea level changes on a shore or in a river: if the water recedes, run away from the shore or find the highest place you can. Take with you rice, sugar, a light, a knife, matches and clothes. Please remember this story and pass it on to future generations.”  

The songs educated the inhabitants and helped them survive another tsunami in 2004, even though the island was very close to the earthquake’s epicentre. There is little technology on the island, so the songs are important to preserve for improved disaster preparedness. I hope that by sharing knowledge of this song tradition I can help preserve local wisdom.  

-Nubli, inhabitant of Simeulue 


Water Purification

Chiadzwa, Zimbabwe, 2008  

I come from a small village. Wanting to serve my community, I worked as a volunteer at the Zimbabwe Red Cross for ten years, among other things. The 2008 rainstorms caused a shortage of clean water, and cholera was spreading. I was working as a peer trainer, and together with other volunteers, we visited the countryside villages to teach how river water could made potable by using purification powder. The powder is stirred in for five minutes and then you wait another five minutes for the sediment to settle. You mix in one bucket and pour the clean water into another bucket through a strainer.  

In order to inspire people to purify their water, we used a popular spiritual song for the message. The singing also helped us volunteers keep our spirits up as we walked long distances from village to village to share knowledge of these “water makers”. The song says to answer the call when you are called upon to act. It is a very well-known song, and it inspired us, too. 

-Sheila, peer trainer and teacher 

Terveysasema laatikossa

Healthcare Centre in a Box  

Finland – Sri Lanka, 2004  

There was an unprecedented outpouring of aid after the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. The international aid organisations practically raced each other to reach the area. Finland’s aid came in the form of citizen donations, a record number of them. The donations were used to fund long-term assistance.   

The Finnish Red Cross (FRC) sent a healthcare centre to the disaster area from its emergency response units. The centre was ready to go in the FRC’s logistics hub in Tampere. The hub keeps various emergency response units prepared in boxes that can be quickly loaded onto pallets. The idea is that anything up to a whole hospital can be transported, even if it has to be carried by donkeys and mules. All parts of the healthcare centre, including gates, fences, generator, water purification equipment, beds for overnight care, tents for personnel, data communication equipment and so on, can fit on 50 pallets. The entire healthcare centre fits on two trucks and is usually flown to the area aboard a cargo plane. After the 2004 tsunami, the healthcare centre was loaded onto the first available Finnair airliner.   

-Outi, FRC logistics hub project coordinator  



Iowa, USA, 2008 

We were constantly warned that a flood was coming. I had never seen a flood and had lived for a long time, 50 years, without experiencing any sort of natural disaster. People were asked to help make sandbags. I filled, tied and lifted bags onto pallets for transport. Trucks would bring tons of sand, and there were enormous piles of it in parking lots. There must have been more than a hundred of us filling the bags and lifting them onto pallets.  

This was an emergency like I had never experienced in my life. While we filled the bags, we saw familiar faces who we had not seen for a long time. I was impressed by how the people cared for their community. Everyone took part. Students and the elderly were also there. Even children as young as five, who had come with their parents, were using tiny shovels to fill bags. 

I was beat after a week, and could not fill the bags anymore. I then helped the children tie the mouths of the bags. 

-Donald, volunteer