Indonesia defends quake aid effort

Indonesia on Wednesday defended the earthquake relief effort as aid agencies said survivors are still in desperate need of medical care and water four days after the disaster.

Supplies shipped in from around the world began to reach the tens of thousands of people left homeless and hungry, but problems with distribution continue to dog the massive operation, agencies said.

“Health care, shelter, water and sanitation are the main issues,” said Amanda Pitt, spokesperson for the United Nations disaster-response team on the ground. “We can’t do anything for the dead. So we have to focus on the living and make sure they have these sorts of services.”

The scale of the disaster caused by Saturday’s 6,3-magnitude temblor on Indonesia’s main island of Central Java became clearer as the death toll rose to 5 846, the social affairs ministry said on Wednesday.

Nearly 49 000 homes were destroyed and more than 118 000 others damaged, it said.
Hope of finding anyone still alive in the wreckage has been all but abandoned.

As Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono left the quake zone following a four-day tour, Indonesian officials defended the relief operation.

“The situation is getting better and better, especially in the area of distribution,” said Major General Bambang Darmono, the coordinating officer on the ground for the national disaster-management agency.

“Every area has been reached by the distribution effort,” he said. “I know there are a lot of people complaining but it doesn’t mean there is no activity.

“We are still in an emergency phase, so we are still continuing with our efforts—delivering food, and also evacuating people if there are victims in the area.”

International humanitarian aid and foreign medical teams are pouring into the disaster zone, with relief efforts facilitated by cool, dry weather overnight.

The United States joined the operation, with a 135-strong team of military medical staff setting up a fully equipped field hospital in badly damaged Sewon, south of the ancient royal city of Yogyakarta.

“We anticipate being able to see a few patients this afternoon,” with the facility likely to be fully operational on Thursday, Marine First Lieutenant Eric Tausch said. “We’ll start getting folks in here, see where we can alleviate the pressure on the infrastructure locally.”

Indonesian military and rescue helicopters delivered badly needed food to isolated areas in the hills of hard-hit Bantul and Gunung Kidul districts, and transported the injured to hospital, the Detikcom online news service said.

UN Children’s Fund spokesperson John Budd said the main concern is getting clean water to survivors. “If we don’t get clean water to them, that will create a health issue. These people are physically vulnerable—they are weakened by injury and suffering from psychological trauma. On top of that, they’re homeless.”

Budd said 45 trucks are ferrying water into the area—30 operating in the hard-hit Bantul district south of Yogyakarta and 15 others working in Klaten district, east of the city.

As the world rallies by providing aid, emergency teams and cash pledges, the UN said the relief effort is largely under control, although logistical problems remain.

Ibrahima Kone, a technical officer for the World Health Organisation (WHO), said aid agencies are still working to record a proper tally of the tonnes of aid coming into the area.

“We should have a better view of what we have received, and how we are going to dispatch it” by Thursday at the latest, Kone said. “Usually, for two or three days after an emergency, it takes two or three days for the system to get ready to deal with this huge amount of aid.”

To the north of the quake zone, the Mount Merapi volcano continued to belch heat clouds and send trails of lava running down its slopes, heightening fears of an eruption.

The quake was Indonesia’s third major disaster in 18 months, following the tsunami that killed 168 000 in Sumatra and another quake that killed more than 600 people in Nias last year.—Sapa-AFP

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