May 30, 2006

Aid Flows in for Java Quake Victims

By Achmad Sukarsono

BANTUL, Indonesia -- International relief efforts picked up on Tuesday for survivors of the earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people on Indonesia's Java island, but many victims complained that vital aid was not reaching them.

Planes carrying supplies and foreign experts, including Japanese paramedics and a small contingent of U.S. Marines, reached the stricken region to supplement government aid and workers.

The paramedics and Marines landed at the airport at the ancient royal capital of Yogyakarta, the main city in the affected area, which re-opened to commercial traffic despite a heavily damaged terminal.

U.N. officials say more than 22 countries have responded to Indonesia's call for help with aid or pledges of assistance, and more countries announced contributions in cash, goods or personnel throughout the day.

But help was still a long way off for some.

In the hard-hit rural area on the way to Bantul town, Jumadi and his two barefoot teenage boys begged motorists for money.

"Our village has many victims, houses are all destroyed and we have not received aid from the government. This is (all) we can do. What else can we do?" he said.

The quake's official death toll had reached 5,428 as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the government's Social Affairs Department, and it had left more than 130,000 homeless by one estimate, many without shelter and short of food.

Speaking in a makeshift tent by a road outside Yogyakarta, Siwo Sudarmo said: "I'm very sad ... we haven't received any assistance. We have to make our own tents and I also learned that if you want to get a tent you have to fill out a form.

"Every day trucks with signs 'aid for quake' pass by but we can't stop them," he said, adding he was relying on donations from passers-by for money for clean water and instant noodles.

Idham Samawi, the head of Bantul regency, told Reuters that where people were in government shelters "the logistics supplies and others are sufficient ... all are satisfied."

"We have priority to rescue people and all people must eat." The social welfare head for Bantul region, Abu Dzarin, said there had been problems.

"The first day, on Saturday, we didn't have anything. On Sunday we distributed thousands of kilograms of rice ... On Monday the aid started coming," he said. "The problem is that we are not receiving enough aid."

Not all the people seeking help are victims, he added.

Government and aid group officials say clean water and shelter are the immediate needs, as well as medical care.

The United Nations is shipping three 100-bed field hospitals, tents, medical supplies and generators this week.

The International Organization for Migration said on Tuesday it had delivered 35 tonnes of relief materials to four locations, including Bantul, the district that suffered the most.


In Bantul town, Muhadi, 55, wearing a black Muslim cap, said he had been back in business since Monday selling rice in his 4-square-metre kiosk.

"Yesterday I opened the shop. It's better than staying at home doing nothing, (though) there were only a few buyers."

The tremor early on Saturday was centred just off the Indian Ocean coast near Yogyakarta, the former Javanese royal capital.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who moved his office temporarily to Yogyakarta, vowed late on Monday all relief funds would be spent on quake victims.

Indonesia is notorious for endemic corruption. The government has set aside relief funds of 100 billion rupiah ($10.86 million) from now till August. A year of reconstruction and rehabilitation will begin after August, costing the government 1.1 trillion rupiah, he added.

The quake was the latest misfortune to hit the world's fourth-most populated country after Islamic militant bombings, bird flu outbreaks and the massive 2004 quake and tsunami.

The quake initially heightened activity at nearby Mount Merapi volcano -- already sporadically spouting for weeks -- sparking fear of an imminent massive eruption.

But vulcanologist Subandrio, a Merapi expert, told Reuters: "Today's activities are relatively lower compared to yesterday. The maximum range of the hot ashes today is 3 km (2 miles)."

He cautioned that it was still uncertain how the quake affected volcano.

Indonesia sits on the Asia-Pacific's so-called "Ring of Fire," which is marked by heavy volcanic and tectonic activity. The December 26, 2004, quake and its resulting tsunami, left some 170,000 people dead or missing around Aceh.

(Additional reporting by Lewa Pardomuan, Michelle Nichols, Tomi Soetjipto, Harry Suhartono and Diyan Jari)

($1=9,208 rupiah)