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Indonesian Earthquake Survivors Struggling After One Year


One year after a massive earthquake struck Indonesia's Java island, thousands of people hit hardest by the disaster still struggle to rebuild their lives. As Chad Bouchard reports from Yogyakarta, aid workers have turned their attention from emergency needs to work programs to for the most vulnerable groups.

The 6.2 magnitude earthquake killed nearly 6,000 people and disrupted hundreds of thousands of lives. The temblor did more than $3 billion in damage and triggered the world's largest international emergency response of 2006.

During the first months of recovery, local and international agencies churned out tens of thousands of shelters to house more than one and a half million people left homeless.

Government officials say less than 10,000 people in remote areas remain without adequate shelter.

Phil Vine with the International Federation of Red Cross Agencies says the housing operation here is a model for disaster response. The Red Cross set up small teams to build houses out of local material, such as bamboo, that is cheap, easy to use and earthquake resistant.

"What's happened here in the Yogyakarta earthquake has been seen globally as a benchmark for recovery using local materials in a low-cost way, in which the people themselves, based on the Javanese tradition of helping each other, just put these things up and rebuilt their lives in three months," said Vine.

But aid workers say as survivors focused on shelter and other immediate needs following the disaster, critical long-term sources of income were neglected.

Hadiwiyono, a farmer from the Mutihan Village in the hard-hit Klaten district, stands ankle deep in a rice paddy, tending neat green rows of shoots. The 57-year old mother of five is one among thousands of farmers who lost their homes in the quake. During last fall's growing season, fields like this one were left fallow and choked with weeds.

Many farmers lost an entire planting cycle, and the fall crop was about 40 percent below normal.

Hadiwiyono says she left the fields behind because she had to work on her collapsed house. She says the first months after the quake were chaotic. But with some fertilizer and seed donations from the Food and Agriculture Organization, she is able to go back to work, her life as a rice-farmer has been restored.

FAO officials say 132 farming communities have received seed and fertilizer help, but harvests remain below normal. The program will expand to help more people.

Challenges also remain for more than a thousand people who suffered debilitating spinal injuries in the quake. Health care workers say many of those left with limited mobility have suffered severe depression. Dozens have attempted suicide.

Tatur Prianto, a Red Cross volunteer and an amateur radio hobbyist, decided to connect secluded patients over a radio network.

Prianto says two religious programs and one counseling show are broadcast each day, and participants can talk about their lives and connect with other severely injured survivors.

He says they usually share experiences on to cope with their disabilities, or how to sell flowers and other small business ideas. Sometimes they even talk about sex. He adds that he wants to see the program include more disabled people.

Phil Vine says the Red Cross will likely employ this model during future disasters.

"I can only see it expanding. I mean it's just one of those smart ideas," continued Vine. "There's a lot of counseling that goes on, and there's a lot of flirting that goes on. One of them is a budding romance between this 23-year-old who had a spinal injury, totally lost the use of her legs, and she's hooked up with one of the Indonesian ambulance drivers. And they're engaged to be married."

The International Organization for Migration and other agencies have stepped in to provide handicap-accessible housing and job opportunities for the disabled.

Purniewen is the livelihood assistance coordinator for United Nations Development Program in Yogyakarta. He says relief agencies learned important lessons from previous disasters in Indonesia, such as the Indian Ocean tsunami in the country's Aceh province, where about 160,000 people died.

He says aid groups have learned to take advantage of community ties, with neighbors volunteering to help rebuild each other's homes. He says that helped get people back to their jobs so they could provide for their families.

"One lesson is actually that social capital is quite important in terms of fostering the recovery," said Purniewen. "Yogya has very strong social capital. Eighty percent of people are already working, not recovered, but already work again. That's an indication that social capital played a role important in this case."

The U.N. and other agencies have revived small traditional industries such as pottery, weaving and furniture production for more than four thousand households.

Aid workers say while thousands more still need assistance, restoring livelihoods is the only way to leave behind a self-reliant community.

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