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Indonesia quake relief unfolds

As the death toll from Saturday's earthquake in Indonesia topped 5,000, faith-based groups were trying to address emergency needs in precarious conditions.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | May 29, 2006


"Families have erected makeshift tarps or tents; the rest are sitting in their yards, picking through the rubble to salvage what they can."

—Galen Carey


As the death toll from Saturday's earthquake in Indonesia topped 5,000, faith-based groups were trying to address emergency needs in precarious conditions.

Hospitals are overrun with thousands of injured patients, and there is a shortage of drinking water, according to government reports.

As many as 200,000 people are homeless, according to reports from the Indonesian Red Cross. Sixty percent of the fatalities were in the Bantul district south of Yogyakarta.

Over the weekend, U.S.-based response groups contacted their staff and partners on the ground in Indonesia. Members of Action by Churches Together (ACT) were coordinating relief efforts.

Three ACT members in Indonesia include the disaster program of the Council of Churches of Indonesia (YTBI), the Christian Health Association (YEU), and Church World Service (CWS). YEU sent medical teams, medicine and equipment. YEU is also evacuating injured children into safer areas. YEU teams reported there is inadequate shelter to protect survivors from the rain at night, a lack of first aid kits and medicines, no adequate latrines or other sanitation facilities, and a need for food and essential non-food items.

YTBI is helping coordinate the distribution of food and medicine, while CWS is assessing damages in Bantul and is distributing relief supplies.

Aftershocks continue in the affected areas, according to ACT, and so the disaster continues to unfold. Heavy rain has also made transporting relief supplies even more difficult.

However, many faith-based groups were able to respond more quickly to the earthquake since they already had programs in place to care for evacuees from the Merapi volcano. At least some scientists are concerned that the quake could trigger a greater lava flow, adding more pressure inside Merapi. People began evacuating that area May 11.

The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) sent an assessment team to Yogyakarta early Sunday morning, and additional team members joined the group Monday.

"We visited a smaller village east of Yogyakarta which has thus far received no assistance from any source," said the group's spokesperson, Galen Carey. "Most of the homes have completely collapsed. Families have erected makeshift tarps or tents; the rest are sitting in their yards, picking through the rubble to salvage what they can. Others are nursing their wounded."

CRWRC and its partner agencies distributed more than 8,400 containers of rice, noodles and drinking water to survivors, and are acquiring family-sized tents for those without shelter.

"People are still in shock, not fully comprehending the devastation," Carey said. "They have had little to eat for the past 36 hours and their water is badly contaminated. One man sustained head wounds but was too weak to be moved to the hospital, where, in any case, there are no available beds."

CRWRC will continue to distribute water, shelter, food and health care.

Baptist World Aid and Hungarian Baptist Aid dispatched two rescue teams into the affected area. One team is working in the Bethesda Hospital in Yogyakarta and the other in Bantul and surrounding areas.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS), along with the Caritas network and other Catholic agencies, was also distributing relief supplies. CRS short-term response includes distribution of shelter materials, blankets, hygiene kits, clothes, kitchen sets and family kits to 5,000 families. CRS also funded medical supplies for a local partner that is providing medical attention to 10,000 people in Pundong and shelter to 1,800 people.

Faith-based groups also reported they were already thinking about long-term needs. Thousands of homes have been demolished and will need to be rebuilt. ACT members were making plans to respond for weeks and months to come, and Baptist World Aid was assessing how churches could be involved in later stages of humanitarian relief and rehabilitation.

The 6.3-magnitude quake is the worst disaster to strike Indonesia since the December 26, 2004, tsunami.


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