The airplane hangar at Medan's Polonia airport was piled high
with boxes of instant noodles, rice, and drinking water Sunday,
while relief volunteers and French fire fighters idled nearby,
waiting to be flown to disaster-struck areas. The food was destined
for hungry tsunami victims, cut off by destroyed roads and bridges
and waiting for help.
"A lot of help can't get in or out," says Rizal Nordin, governor
of North Sumatra and the local head of the provincial disaster task
force team. "Transport is our biggest problem."
A massive relief and food distribution network being assembled,
which will link international agencies to tsunami victims, is facing
bottlenecks at key points - such as at Medan Airport. But Sunday
food aid stockpiled at the airport had started to flow, relief
workers say, a week after the Dec. 26 tsunami struck
The obstacles highlight the sheer scale of this international
relief effort - said to be the largest of its kind in history -
under way across six countries from Somalia in Africa to Sri Lanka
in South Asia. The US has increased its contribution to the disaster
relief effort to $350 million. Japan has increased its pledge to
$500 million. More than $2 billion has been promised in emergency
Indonesia, with at least 80,000 dead and up to one million
homeless, is the worst hit. Its problems are a microcosm of managing
the giant program. The Indonesian government and military, US Navy,
and international agencies are now racing to stave off outbreaks of
hunger and diseases such as cholera in distant areas still cut off
Some displaced people Sunday took comfort in the arrival of the
aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln off the coast of Banda Aceh.
But others have complained that relief efforts have been slow to
reach them. "Why are you giving us so little [rice]?" hungry victims
asked Indonesian Social Affairs Minister Bachtiar Chamysah after his
visit to a town where some 20,000 are thought to be dead.
Most of the northwest coast of Aceh province, the hardest-hit
area is barricaded by a mountain range and cut off from supply
overland, with bridges, roads, and harbors destroyed by the
earthquake that triggered the tsunami. Relief workers, such as US
Marines, must rely on expensive helicopters to drop food to
afflicted cities. Stockpiles similar to the one in Medan have been
accumulating in other cities.
"The whole humanitarian effort is really only just getting going
now," said Mike Huggins, a spokesman for the World Food Program, on
Saturday. Specialists in assessing the human impact of disasters
from organizations such as the International Red Cross, say the lack
of access was making planning almost impossible in towns such as
Meulaboh on Aceh's West Coast.
The delays have been frustrating to volunteers such as Djumiati,
who is leading a team of Muslim nurses to staff hospitals in
afflicted cities. …