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Community mobilization and volunteerism prove effective in Yogyakarta quake relief
13 June 2006
by Gilles Lordet

Yogyakarta, Indonesia: "First there was a rumbling sound like a plane taking off. Then came a big quake followed by tremors for tens of seconds," explains Mr R. Armuzi, a 56 year inhabitant of Yogyakarta. The earthquake that hit Yogyakarta province on Saturday, 29 May seems to have been discriminating in its destruction. Yogyakarta, the administrative centre of the province and the cultural capital of Indonesia, shows little sign of the disaster. Only the neighbourhoods to the south suffered significant damage. Hardest hit were the districts of Bantul, some 10 km to the southwest of the major university town, and Klaten, a half-hour's drive to the east. Two-thirds of the victims came from these two districts.

In the little village of Garanguro, on the outskirts of Klaten, the neighbours helped each other pull victims out of the rubble. First-aid posts called "posko" were set up to centralize the distribution of food and water, ensure fair rationing, count the number of injured people and casualties and also assess the damage. The "gotong royong", which means "solidarity" in Javanese and is a sort of community melting pot shows clearly how an emergency response is always most effective when the people themselves get involved in first aid.

"People got together by neighbourhood. Now several families are sleeping in the same tent, and they have set up community kitchens where the women prepare meals for everyone. No one has been neglected", says one of the neighbourhood leaders, Mr Sumarjo, who manages one village "posko". The facilities are very basic. The first-aid post is a mere canvas; mats are spread out on the ground when authorities or donor associations come to visit. Information on damage and affected families is scribbled down on slips of paper.

A flag in front carries the words "first-aid post, earthquake" in large letters and tells the people that they can get help here. "We get help from the outside, primarily boxes of food", continues Sumarjo. "And when representatives of humanitarian organizations came we tell them what we need. Virtually all of the homes in the village were destroyed – 160 in all. Eight persons were killed. But everyone is receiving aid. No one has been forgotten in the entire village," assures Peter.

The PMI volunteers

The Indonesian Red Cross has done a particularly efficient job of mobilizing personnel: "We started to evacuate victims on the morning of the disaster," says Rachmat, a 23-year-old volunteer from Klaten. "That same evening, we set up tarpaulins to make provisional shelters, especially in front of hospitals where the majority of people were. We ended at almost 4 in the morning handing out blankets."

If the PMI was able to act so effectively it was because Indonesian volunteers flooded in from the four corners of the archipelago: Nono, who coordinates operations in Klaten comes from Kalimantan PMI; Juli, a doctor who runs a mobile clinic, is a native of Bali, while Parangadi, who supervises the distribution of food, is from Central Java. The Indonesian Red Cross relied on its network of local branches scattered throughout the country. It could also count on teams already mobilized in preparation for the eruption of Mount Merapi the volcano located to the north of Yogyakarta which has been sending out danger signals for some months now.

The community kitchens provide a good example of this anonymous community mobilization. In Bantul, young student volunteers from the Red Cross work flat out to prepare 500 meals a day for the survivors, volunteers and patients from the field hospital. In all, ten community kitchens throughout the earthquake-stricken zone fix 15,000 meals a day and hope to feed 100,000 persons over the next few days.

Medical situation - under control

The small field hospital which the Norwegian Red Cross has set up behind the PMI's offices in Bantul stays full. "Four days after the disaster, we are still taking in an average 150 patients a day. All 60 beds are occupied," says Edward, a volunteer surgeon from the PMI. "We are 7 specialists, 10 GPs and 50 nurses - all working non-stop. The operating room has been open since Tuesday. What we see most are fractures, broken legs, bruises and injuries. Many people have cut an arm or a leg open."

"We also have 11 ambulances that go around to the ruined villages to pick up the wounded", adds Yas, a GP. "When we get to a village we ask who is seriously injured and then make a diagnosis to determine whether the person needs to be hospitalised."

According the Ministry for Social Affairs, more than 33,200 persons were seriously injured while almost 13,000 suffered slight injuries. The medical emergency phase, during which lives can be saved, has passed. Hospitals often remain full because many people do not know where to go. But the situation is under control, assure the authorities who also stress the need for medical equipment and most importantly, orthopaedic supplies.

Fast-approaching challenges

Latifur Rahman, Head of Operations for the Red Cross Federation in Yogyakarta explains, "the two priorities for the next few weeks are providing shelter and decent hygienic conditions. We have already handed out 2,800 tents and 70,000 tarpaulins to more than 35,000 beneficiaries. But the needs are still great." Frédéric Blas, Operations Officer in charge of provisional shelters, thinks it will be difficult to distribute supplies or food due to the widespread nature of damage.

"It was the countless little villages surrounding the major cities that were hardest hit. They are often remote and hard to reach. It is highly unlikely that we will have to deal with displaced persons grouped together by camp. People want to stay in their community, near their former homes."

Based on the initial observations by the Federation's water and sanitation team, it would appear that the earthquake-stricken inhabitants still have access to water. The surface wells that families built in their yards seem to be in good working order. However, a great many toilets and showers were destroyed. The Red Cross plans to build latrines as soon as possible. The government has said that it needs 15,000 sanitary structures. The Spanish Red Cross has already started building eight latrines and four showers on Bantul's football field, while the Red Cross has set up a post in Gantinwarno, near Klaten.

The initial evaluation of the Ministry for Social Affairs estimates that 6,300 have been killed. Approximately 67,000 houses were completely destroyed and 72,000 others were severely damaged, leaving at least 200,000 people homeless. Hundreds of public buildings were also damaged or destroyed. The Federation plans to provide assistance to 10,000 families in the coming days in the form of medical care, water, health infrastructures, shelters, food and equipment for the displaced persons.