A team of 81 Indonesian rescue workers bound for earthquake-devastated Haiti arrived home Friday, one week after leaving and without setting foot in a country.
Indonesia, a country intimately familiar with natural disaster, began pooling contributions almost immediately after the Haitian earthquake. Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah says the government empathized with Haiti, being a developing country with few resources, and wanted to provide assistance.
"We wish to establish that this is an expression of solidarity of the people in the government of Indonesia, and we can say the contribution to the World Food Program hopefully will in the next few days reach Haiti," he said.
The National Disaster Management Body Assembled a team of medical experts and police qualified in identifying victims of natural disaster, and coordinated with Indonesian diplomats in New York to deliver a cargo of food, medicine and blankets to Haiti.
But when the team reached the Dominican Republic, neighboring Haiti, they found a logjam of aid organizations and supplies trying to reach the quake zone.
Teuku says the team could have been stuck in the Dominican Republic for up to two weeks, waiting for a chance to get into Haiti. So once they secured a guarantee that the supplies would be delivered, the team members decided to return home.
"So long as we can provide them with medical assistance and other necessities to carry then at least the objective of making a contribution has been achieved," he said.
The earthquake in the Caribbean nation would have been the first overseas operation for the emergency team, which was recently created to deal with disasters in Indonesia.
Teuku says they are still willing and able to lend a hand should circumstances change. But for now, the experience has provided a valuable lesson on the need for better planning.
"The logistical issue is very critical and planning and re-planning and other calculations need to be made in advance," he said. "Otherwise we cannot maximize our efforts and we cannot obtain our objective, which is very much in the interest of humanitarian assistance."
Simon Field, who helped oversee the recovery effort in Aceh after the 2004 tsunami, says the key is coordinating the different aid groups to ensure resources are distributed effectively and then later working with communities to rebuild.
"The key is trying to ensure the resources are appropriate, so I think that's why donors are correctly asking to provide cash donations; otherwise you'll end up with a lot of equipment or resources that may never be used or are inappropriate and they'll be left as an eyesore," said Field
Indonesia knows that experience well. Large amounts of donated medicine had to be destroyed years after the Aceh tsunami.
Field notes that Indonesia now has the expertise to provide appropriate help to other countries hit by disasters. Having seen $6 billion in aid flow in after the tsunami, Indonesians are eager to return the favor.