With more than 52 thousand deaths, Indonesia has been the hardest hit of the twelve countries struck by Sunday’s earthquake and tsunami.
Besides the rising death toll in Indonesia, military officials describe the damage as devastating. Banda Aceh is the worst hit. Among the organizations trying to help is the UN children’s agency, UNICEF. John Budd is UNICEF’s chief spokesman in Indonesia. From Jakarta, he spoke to English to Africa Joe De Capua about the problems hindering relief operations.
He says, “The biggest problem we’re facing is getting supply material and people in there…because essentially what’s happening is you have a ground zero situation up there (Banda Aceh) and you’re having to build a logistical operation from scratch. Now the UN already has people in there. They’ve started the process…but it is in the very early days and by the middle of next week we’ll have in place sophisticated satellite-based communication. We’ll have self-contained camps for up to ninety or a hundred people and that will be increased.”
He says the lack of such equipment, prioritization and coordination is creating logjams of supplies. Mr. Budd says, “In Banda Aceh, the center of the disaster, the supply is just blocking up the airport. We can’t get enough food and medical equipment in there because the system itself is just overloaded.” The UNICEF spokesman says more airports need to be opened and more trucks made available to transport supplies. There have been reports that people who haven’t eaten for days have stolen the food from some of the trucks.
Simultaneous operations are underway in Indonesia to recover the many bodies and to keep the survivors alive. Mr. Budd says, “What’s happening in Banda Aceh is like a Dante’s hell on earth. You have a desperate process of having to dispose and bury the bodies, many of them unidentified. I’ve seen reports, I’ve been told of families who have put photographs on walls to try to identify where these people are. We have people here in Jakarta for example who are getting cell phone photographs out, desperately trying to locate their loved ones."
The next step for UNICEF is to get the emergency health equipment that’s arrived up and running. There are enough emergency health kits for 200,000 people. UNICEF is also launching an operation to identify children and reunite them with their families.