June 4, 2006

Java Quake Survivors Struggle to Rebuild Future

By Michael Perry

BANTUL, Indonesia -- Aid struggled to reach Indonesian quake victims on Sunday with many roads into the worst-hit areas gridlocked with convoys of trucks carrying volunteer relief workers and motorbikes laden with food.

Many survivors said they had yet to see government aid more than a week after the quake killed more than 6,200 people in Yogyakarta and Central Java provinces on Java island, and were relying on relatives and friends to ferry in emergency supplies.

Aid groups set up medical centers in devastated villages, to treat injuries and prevent infections, and distributed hundreds of tents to help the tens of thousands of homeless.

Indonesia's foreign minister said no more international medical aid was necessary and groups should focus on reconstruction.

Many survivors are already trying to rebuild their homes themselves with wood scraps and salvaged bricks but few have the money to buy building materials.

"Yes, I'm scared it will collapse again but I have no money to rebuild it any other way," said Tito Harjono, 66, adding that he had been buried under the timber roof after the quake.

The Indonesian government has pledged to give owners of completely flattened houses 30 million rupiah ($3,200) each for reconstruction.

Energy minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro told reporters power in the quake zone has been largely restored, and there would be no charge for reconnection.

"Electricity can flow now from east to west. There are no problems any more," he said, adding that it was up to the owners of ruined homes when they wanted to be reconnected.


Catholic priests comforting Christian survivors outside damaged churches in the Bantul area which suffered the most damage, said survivors were still desperate for basic foods, medicines and shelter.

"We need to calm people. They are still in panic. We need to give them aid for daily use because they have nothing," said Father Gregorius Utomo from the damaged Sacred Heart church.

A wedding took place nearby after Sunday mass.

"Although the quake happened, it did not melt their spirit to get married. The spirit of love unites this couple despite the disaster," priest Antonius Triyono told family and friends.

Hospitals in the region were overwhelmed by the influx of patients in the early days after the quake but that problem has faded due to quick response from local and foreign groups.

"Principally, the critical period has passed. However, there is the potential of new health problems due to the environment because of the collapsed houses. Breathing ailments and diarrhea are indeed threats," Yogyakarta provincial secretary Bambang Susanto Priyohadi told Reuters.

More than 20,000 people had to be treated in hospitals after the quake but there were more than 130,000 outpatients, the World Health Organization said.

Hospitals and clinics have told patients to return to their villages but many quake survivors said they would prefer to stay because they have no proper place to live.

Many have been living in flimsy shelters at the sites of their former homes, now reduced to rubble. The risk of infectious disease remains high because of the crowding and devastation in the quake-hit area.

There have been worries over survivors taking refuge in chicken coops, with potential exposure to the bird flu virus in a country that has recorded 36 human deaths from the H5N1 strain.

WHO said cleaning such places with high-pressure water and disinfectant was imperative to prevent any kind of disease.

A WHO spokeswoman in the quake zone said the world body planned to launch a huge vaccination program against tetanus and measles but no disease outbreak had yet hit the survivors.

The United Nations has announced plans for a six-month $103 million relief program.

(additional reporting by Lewa Pardomuan)