Monday, October 12, 2009

Better relief efforts in Indonesia this time round

Original source (click to view): Channel NewsAsia

After several natural disasters in recent years in Indonesia, the local authorities and the military were this time given the strongest message yet by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to do better in leading recovery efforts – and it has begun to show.

Since the West Sumatran earthquake struck on Sept 30, the Governor's office in Padang has built emergency schools and sent food to needy families, including over 6,000 tonnes of rice as of Friday.

Their efforts have received praise from the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC).

Team leader Winston Chang said that "all systems (were) working well with no obstacles on the field ... good cooperation on the field with various agencies and institutions".

The situation was slightly different earlier last week, when Mr Yudhoyono said he was "not pleased if governors report on damaged infrastructures that they need some hundred billions of rupiah ... what I want to know is the ongoing emergency steps", as reported by Indonesian daily Kompas on Tuesday.

Given the "geological risks" Indonesia faces, the President added that "the military should keep building effective capacity with high alertness", so they can respond quicker.

One foreign aide worker noted how the Indonesian army had arrived in the quake-hit region just as the Singapore Civil Defence Force was due to fly in on Oct 1. In the end, the 42-man SCDF rescue team flew in the next day, as the local government had not been ready to receive them earlier, Singapore's Foreign Affairs Ministry had said.

'We'll never refuse help'

In an interview with this reporter, Padang governor Gamawan Fauzi said: "We will never refuse help from the outside – be it in health supplies, rescue or food – but we must show that we have the ability to do it by ourselves also," he said.

This is not some "misplaced sense of patriotism" at work, either, said University of Indonesia international relations lecturer Sayed Fazan.

"It's not bad to have locals in charge because we need the element of local knowledge, especially when access to the most remote of areas is concerned."

While UNDAC is directing relief efforts on the ground, officials from non-government organisations – some 184 NGOs have set up base at the Governor's residence – said the government has been "more than helpful" in their aid efforts.

"We've had quite a lot of help from the government here in terms of organising flights and making sure we reach as many people as possible," said Mr Andy Holland of England's ShelterBox, which has been distributing tents and food to the people in Pariaman.

But the drive to have Indonesians lead recovery efforts seems to have gone unnoticed among the locals. At Kota Bangkor, located on the outskirts of Pariaman, one villager said she has seen more foreigners come to their help.

This is simply not true, countered Padang governor, Mr Gamawan: "We have a lot of locals – 1,600 local groups, in fact – that have been mobilised to the outskirts to give help. We value foreign help, but we cannot let it be said our locals don't want to help our own people."