'Please come back': Islanders seek tourism for Lombok quake recovery

The business, which has all the usual trappings of a luxury island resort and employs 16 locals, thrived.

And then a magnitude seven earthquake struck the island of Lombok in the early evening of Sunday, August 5.

Hundreds of people were killed - the death toll now stands at 623 - while an estimated 229,229 houses, 45 schools, 78 houses of worship, four health facilities and 3818 public facilities including roads and bridges were damaged or destroyed across Lombok, Bali and the three Gilis.

About 400,000 people lost their homes to the quake and its aftershocks, which continued for weeks.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has promised payments of between 10 million and 50 million rupiah (about $800 to $4600) to those whose homes have been damaged or destroyed. But only about 1 per cent of those eligible for that money have actually received payment so far.

And while 50 million rupiah could cover the cost of a very basic house on Lombok, it isn't anything close to being enough to replace what people have lost. No amount of money would be.

The reality is that it will be years before Lombok island and the Gilis fully rebuild and recover. Village after village in the north-west of Lombok was flattened.

Contrary to reporting at the time, the Gilis emerged relatively unscathed from the quake. Yes, some houses and walls came down; yes, there were injuries and some tragic deaths on the islands.

And yes, the moment the earthquake struck was truly frightening - once experienced, it's impossible to forget the low rumble and violent shaking of the earth. It stays with you for weeks afterwards.

But contrary to the reports and images that emerged - the chaos of thousands of terrified Westerners fleeing tourist islands that had been wrecked by the quake - the damage wasn't that bad compared to Lombok's.

What has happened since is that the tourism industry, the economic lifeblood of the Gilis and the employer of thousands of people on Lombok, has been stopped dead in its tracks.

That's a development that could do long-term damage to the lives of the locals, as well as people like Pratoni and Miller.

When Fairfax Media visited Gili Air and Gili T (as it's nicknamed) this week, a majority of businesses had re-opened. Electricity and water had been restored, repairs had been made to buildings, and kitchens and bars restocked.

There just weren't many tourists.

Pratoni and Miller know how lucky they are to be on Gili Air. Their resort reopened a week ago. Three of their rooms are still undergoing repairs, but the damage was relatively minor.

The damage on Lombok was much, much worse.

They've managed to keep paying all 16 of their staff for the last six weeks. Now they just need tourists to come back so their business - and dozens of others - can survive.

"It's not just us, it's our staff, our suppliers, the fast boats who bring in the tourists, the laundry lady and masseur across the street," Miller says. "We've been trying to get a positive message out on social media that we're open, that people can come back to the Gilis, but it's tough."

"Gili is part of north Lombok but it's not a disaster zone," Pratoni adds. "We thought we would be closed until October, but our first guest - Max, a German guy - has just left."

"If we have a message, it's please come back and support the community and local economy," Miller adds.

Over on Gili T, at 2pm on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon, most of the restaurants and bars on the main drag are near empty. Staff mill around, chatting, in restaurant after restaurant.

A shop selling Rip Curl and Billabong bathers has no customers.

Six weeks earlier, Gili T was teeming with tourists. It's the most developed and largest of the three islands, and very popular with young backpackers looking to party.

Idomo (horse and cart) drivers line the main street - there are no cars on the islands - waiting for customers who never come.

One of them, Wildan, has been doing the job for 15 years. Typically, he spends two weeks on Gili T and then a week at home with his family in central Lombok.

But business is at about 20 per cent of normal at the moment, he estimates, even though more than 60 per cent of the resorts and restaurants have reopened.

Those images of fleeing tourists hurt the Gilis badly, he says. "I might not be able to feed my family if this continues," he tells Fairfax Media glumly.

Spooked by the earthquake, few people are visiting and the tourism dollars have dried up.

Hundreds of people living along this coast road rely on work on the Gili islands to support their families.

Hanan, who works on Gili T and lives in the village of Pemenang, is one of them. He and his wife Reniatun had their first child - a beautiful baby girl, Akila - 13 days ago.

Reniatun, who was heavily pregnant when the quake hit, still can't talk about that night. Tears brim in her eyes while we speak.

Hanan says he has finally returned to work in the last week on Gili T - but it's now only every second day, and the resort he works at has had just three guests through so far.

He's built temporary shelter for the three of them, but life is grim.

"That's our only income," he concludes glumly.

Futher north on Lombok itself, conditions are just as tough. Huge cracks run alongside the road, a reminder of the devastation that was wrought.

The damage to buildings in the capital, Mataram, wasn't so bad. Repairs are underway to dozens of buildings and life is beginning to return to normal.

A trip up the coast road, past the tourist hotspot of Senggigi to the north-west of the island, far closer to the epicentre, reveals the worst of it.

Village after village has been razed. Piles of rubble lie where houses used to stand, waiting to be sorted into what can be reused and what must be thrown away.

At best, people have managed to construct one-room shacks while they take stock, wait for money to flow from Jakarta, and work out how they will begin to rebuild their lives. At worst, they're still sleeping out in the open air, or in basic tents.

A malaria-related emergency has been declared in West Lombok and128 people, including a baby, 10 toddlers and a pregnant woman, have contracted the infection.

Help from the Indonesian government has been limited, while a very limited amount of aid from the international community has been allowed in by the government. In the days immediately after the quake, one Indonesian official even went so far as to publicly warn international aid workers who didn't have the correct visa to stay in their hotels and not help - while tens of thousands of his compatriots slept outside, without blankets or enough food and water.

Community-based organisations like Lombok Hero's and Rebuild Gili are doing their best to step into the breach, but it's not enough.

Mick Taylor, an Australian helping out with Lombok Hero's, says the organisation saw a lot of aid being misplaced and decided to focus on two things.

The first is buying and donating tools to small teams of workers in local villages, who can then begin building basic wooden huts before the rains arrive.

The second is getting toilets up and running again.

"The goal has always been to beat the rainy season and avoid the potential for an epidemic. The crisis is not so much the earthquake - though that was horrible - it's the concern about the spread of disease," he says.

Lombok Hero's now has 70 or 80 teams operating within their own villages, constructing temporary shelters. It's slow but crucial work.

Back on Gili T, Rhys Wilson and Stephanie Mitchell are a peculiar sight - a pair of actual tourists arriving on the island, backpacks slung over their shoulders, faces dappled red by the hot sun.

The couple, from Cradle Mountain in Tasmania, aren't your usual 30-year-old backpackers - they booked their trip a couple of days after the August 5 earthquake.

Who books a holiday in a disaster zone?

The couple, who both volunteer with community groups at home, laugh.

"We wanted to do something for the local people," Mitchell says. "We looked into volunteering here, but the visa is very difficult to get and we're only here for a short time, a couple of weeks.

"It's nice to give your tourism dollars to somewhere that actually needs it," Wilson adds. "We had a good chat to a guy in Senggigi who runs a bar the other night and I said to him we had nothing planned, could we come out and help, clean some bricks or something the next day?

"But the people here, they aren't arrogant proud, it's not Western arrogance, they just want to do it themselves. He said to go and buy some water, so we did.

"This is the easiest, most realistic way to help - to just be a tourist."

Six weeks after the earthquake hit, across the length and breadth of Lombok and the Gili islands, tens of thousands of people are still in a desperate situation. Incomes have dried up and disease threatens.

People like Pratoni and Miller, and the dozens of other resort owners, the hundreds of local employees and the tens of thousands of locals are struggling to rebuild their lives.

It will be people like Wilson and Mitchell who help them do it.

But it's going to be a long journey.