Much-needed aid is trickling through to remote communities on Indonesia’s ravaged Sulawesi Island for the first time since a massive earthquake and tsunami struck last Friday, leaving at least 1,649 dead.
Aid workers have delivered food, drinking water and other essential items to the community, which is still struggling to come to terms with the scale of the disasters, but longer-term help will also be required.
Husni Husni, a spokesman for the International Federation of the Red Cross, said logistical issues have delayed the delivery of humanitarian assistance although they are managing.
“The major challenge has been access to Sulawesi itself,” he told reporters. “The ships from Jakarta to Makassar (a port on Sulawesi) take three days and then from Makassar to Palu takes more than 24 hours, and that’s the major challenge right now.”
Safe drinking water is the most urgent need in Palu, according to Husni, who said relief agencies are planning long-term assistance for those affected.
“We’re always combining disaster response with long-term programmes. Recovery and long-term community-based programmes so that communitiest may know how to cope with future disasters,” he said.
“Right now, we’re not only doing a short-term period of support but also we’re thinking recovery and longer-term support. We’ve launched an appeal of 22 million Swiss francs (two million dollars) to support people affected by this disaster for 20 months ahead, to support them with livelihoods, shelters and also some basic protections including safe water and bedding,” he told AFP news agency.
From towns to mass grave
On Saturday, Indonesia’s top security minister, Wiranto, said the government is considering designating Balaroa and Petobo – two Palu neighbourhoods essentially wiped off the map – as mass graves.
Rescue efforts have halted as officials say there is little hope of finding survivors a week after the disaster struck, but searches for remains continue.
Petobo disappeared into the earth as the force of the quake liquified its soft soil. Liquefaction also struck a large section of Balaroa.
Hundreds of bodies are thought to be buried beneath the ruins of the two towns.
Wiranto said it is not safe for heavy equipment to operate there and that the government is in discussion with local and religious authorities, as well as the victims’ families, to halt search efforts and have these areas declared as mass graves.
Earlier on Saturday, officials issued fresh warnings about the possible outbreak of disease as decomposing body parts continue to be pulled from the rubble in Palu.
“Most of the bodies we have found are not intact and that poses a danger for the rescuers. We have to be very careful to avoid contamination,” Yusuf Latif, a spokesman for the country’s search and rescue effort told the AFP news agency.
“We have vaccinated our teams, but we need to be extra cautious as they are exposed to health hazards. This is also a health concern for the public. It is very hard to control the crowd … people might be exposed to danger.”
More than 70,000 people have been left homeless after the magnitude-7.5 quake struck, launching waves as high as six metres that slammed into Sulawesi at 800 km/h.