Displaced returning home after West Papua earthquakes PDF Afdrukken

JAKARTA, 9 January 2009 (IRIN) - Thousands of people displaced by powerful earthquakes that killed four people and devastated Indonesia's West Papua province on 4 January have begun returning home. However, fear of disease outbreaks in makeshift camps is increasing and aid has yet to reach some survivors, government officials said.

About 10,000 people remain in camps in the coastal districts of Manokwari and Sorong. They fear further aftershocks and a tsunami, following the quakes that measured 7.2 and 7.6 on the Richter scale on 4 January, Ubaldus Rumlus, secretary of the West Papua Disaster Relief Agency, told IRIN from Manokwari on 9 January.

Since then, several aftershocks, the largest 5.6, according to Indonesia's Meteorology and Geophysics Agency, have rattled the region, sparking renewed fear among the population. Tremors subsided as of 9 January.

"At the beginning there were 23,000 displaced people but they have gradually returned to their homes after officials assured them they were safe," Rumlus told IRIN.

"Those who are still in the camps either lost their homes or are still afraid," he said.

Rumlus said that at least 507 people were injured in the initial quakes, 31 of them seriously. The quakes also damaged or destroyed 6,000 houses, 88 government buildings, 16 hospitals and clinics, 76 places of worship and 67 schools.

Hermus Indou, head of the social affairs department of the provincial Regional Development Planning Agency, said the survivors were at risk of diseases such as malaria and infections due to camp conditions and harsh weather.

"One day it is very hot and the next day it rains. Some people are already suffering from coughs," he told IRIN.

He said aid supplies had not reached some of the survivors, especially those in more remote areas.

"There seems to be an abundance of relief supplies but in some [difficult to reach] areas they have not received aid. These people need food, tents and blankets," he said.

Rains slow aid distribution

Ignacio Leon-Garcia, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the government and aid agencies had distributed tonnes of relief supplies such as food, medicines, medical equipment and tents. He said rains may have been to blame for the slow distribution of aid.

"It's been raining in the area and aid has not been distributed in villages, especially those that are isolated," he told IRIN on 9 January. "We are expecting the number of people who have not received aid to be very few and the government will allow aid to reach them."

Leon-Garcia said the West Papuan government had approved 2.2 billion rupiah (US$199,000) while the central government had earmarked 1.2 billion rupiah ($108,000) for the relief and reconstruction efforts.

He said aid groups HOPE and World Vision had been distributing non-food items such as plastic sheeting.

"Oxfam is still doing the assessment and UN agencies have offered our assistance to the government," he said.
The OCHA head said the government had the capacity to handle the situation without international intervention.

"You need some concrete action to support local authorities, but, in general, I don't see an immediate need for massive international assistance," he said.

Houses devastated

Johnny Noya, an emergency response officer for World Vision, who was conducting an assessment in Manokwari, said many houses were flattened and needed to be rebuilt.

"The general condition is returning to normal and the government is doing well in terms of coordinating the relief effort," he told IRIN.

He said some affected areas could only be reached by helicopter, making relief distribution difficult. The jungle-rich Papua region has limited road networks and relies heavily on air transport.

Leon-Garcia said it appeared the second quake on Sunday resulted in more damage but that traditional houses were able to resist the tremors, resulting in fewer casualties.

"In the second quake many buildings collapsed but people were already outside," he said. "Many public buildings were destroyed but it was Sunday when people were not working ... The density of the population is very low and therefore casualties were minimal."

Indonesia is in the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, a chain of fault lines and volcanoes known for seismic activity.