Relief Workers in Indonesia Tackle Bottlenecks to Aid ; Indonesia's Rugged Terrain, Downed Bridges, and the Sheer Volume of Aid Are Slowing Supply Distribution
Tom McCawley Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
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 aid.
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 from communication.
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. …