JAKARTA - Indonesia's President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has authorized the acceptance of "urgent" foreign aid for humanitarian efforts in the province of Central Sulawesi, which was hit Friday by the double disaster of an earthquake and tsunami. Foreign governments have pledged assistance and aid agencies are welcoming the decision, as people in affected areas lack adequate access to food, water, medical supplies, shelter, and fuel.
Indonesian officials said Sunday there were 832 confirmed deaths from the 7.5-magnitude quake, which triggered a huge tsunami inundating the cities of Palu and Donggala. It is feared the death toll could soar into the thousands when rescuers are able to get to remote areas.
Touring Palu, President Jokowi said Sunday one of the immediate needs is to bring in heavy equipment to move large pieces of rubble. The chairman of Indonesia's Investment Coordinating Board, Tom Lembong, tweeted Monday the president had authorized "international help for urgent disaster-response & relief."
The decision to open access to foreign assistance is "very important" for the work of humanitarian agencies said Arifin M. Hadi, the head of disaster management for the Indonesian Red Cross. "We learnt from [the recent Lombok earthquake] that we need to be able to treat people more quickly, provide access to water more quickly, and provide shelter more quickly," he said.
Oxfam's Country Director in Indonesia, Maria Lauranti, agreed, stating, "It is very important because we've got global humanitarian teams [on] standby, and then as of now we are processing the paperwork for the arrival of more global humanitarian team to arrive in the country, so that we can have support."
Indonesia's finance minister, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, said Monday a budget of $38 million would be made available for disaster relief in Central Sulawesi.
"The United States government through USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance has a variety of options for humanitarian assistance," U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, Joseph R. Donovan Jr., told the Voice of America. "First and foremost, we will work with our Indonesian counterparts and partners to identify current needs."
"Some options include delivery of relief items from U.S. government stockpiles positioned around the world, provision of grants to partner organizations to implement relief activities, and deployment of technical advisors," he said.
The European Union pledged an initial $1.7 million in emergency humanitarian assistance for Central Sulawesi, which came prior to Jokowi's call for international support. The EU Ambassador to Indonesia, Vincent Guérend, said "we will probably mainly channel this support via the Indonesian Red Cross and any other non-governmental organization which is in the capacity of delivering assistance on the ground."
Guérend said the European Union is consulting its 28 member states to see what additional support they can provide to Indonesia. "We will see in the coming days how best we can meet the expectation," he told VOA. "Practically it will mean we may deploy forensic experts to identify victims, we may deploy firemen and other civil protection experts, experts in recovering victims after an earthquake with stiffing dogs, etc., ... this all depends on what the Indonesian[s] lack."
South Korea's foreign ministry says it will provide $1 million in assistance to Indonesia, while Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison told local media on Sunday that "if [President Jokowi] needs our help, he'll have it."
Lack of access, risk of disease
Arifin told VOA about 130 Red Cross volunteers are in the area, but said, "We're still having trouble with access, with some volunteers unable to enter [the affected areas] because they're awaiting transport from the Indonesian military."
Stanley Widianto, an Indonesian journalist in the largest city in Sulawesi, Makassar, said he met dozens of aid workers, Palu residents and their family members who were waiting to fly to Palu by military Hercules planes. Lauranti said a lot of people want to leave the city, and a lot of people outside the city want to get in, but transportation is limited.
"I don't think the food or the help is dispersed evenly," Widianto said of the situation, adding local doctors are observing the consequences of trauma in the wake of the disaster. "There are people who are looting the stores right now."
At least 500 people are being treated at local hospitals and authorities have said they are digging a mass grave for 300 bodies to mitigate the threat of infectious disease outbreaks. "Because these are victims of a tsunami and thus wet, the potential can be quite high [for disease], especially related to cholera," Arifin said.