Indonesian Red Cross Workers Fight to Help Aceh's Disaster Victims

Nancy-Amelia Collins

I ndonesian Red Cross workers are battling to save lives and deliver aid to refugees in remote regions of Aceh Province. More than 100,000 people may have perished in Aceh after a massive earthquake triggered tsunami waves that destroyed dozens of communities. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins is in Lhoknga, Indonesia, with the Red Cross.

Dr. Hanifa Alia only recently graduated from medical school. Now, she is using her new skills volunteering to help thousands of victims of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Indonesia's Aceh province.

She travels every day with a small team of Red Cross volunteers, including her physician father, Hanifa Ali, to remote regions of the province looking for people who need aid.

The younger Dr. Hanifa says she feels compelled to help, but her eyes tear in frustration as she treats the wounded in a makeshift refugee camp in Lhoknga, an hour's drive west along the coast from the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.

"They need medicine, they need help, they need everything," she says.

Her father has been a doctor for more than 30 years in Aceh province and has seen his share of horror caring for the victims of the province's 27-year-old separatist war.

But Dr. Hanifa Ali says he has never seen human suffering on the scale he has experienced since giant waves smashed into the coastline on December 26.

Like many people in this devastated region, Dr. Hanifa's own family was devastated by the tsunami waves - at least 20 of his relatives died. But he says these losses have galvanized him into action to care for those who still live.

The district of Lhoknga was flattened by the waves. Officials say that only 7,000 of its 25,000 inhabitants survive.

It is only in the past few days that the Indonesian military has been able to clear the roads. Before that, the volunteers picked their way through the debris on foot, burying corpses and giving aid to survivors. The team lacks even the most basic supplies.

In the forest of Lhoknga, where the survivors have set up camp, dozens of the sick and wounded line up for treatment.

While international aid is slowly starting to reach the refugees, the older Dr. Hanifa worries about the future.

"And then next year we need housing, of course - they have no houses, they stay, maybe I don't know long time they stay here, we don't know," he says. "They have no power to build their house, they have no money, they have nothing. I don't know, this confuse our people and also doctors is confused."

The Red Cross and Red Crescent teams have been hampered by the organization's own losses - many people who have volunteered in the past died in the disaster. Most of Aceh's doctors also perished.

Dr. Hanifa Ali says despite these difficulties, he and his team will soldier on.

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