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Hospitals, tents must be raced to Indonesia quake victims

Photo courtesy AFP
by Peter Capella
Geneva (AFP) May 29, 2006
UN agencies, anxious to show their efficiency after criticism of the 2004 tsunami aid operation, called Monday for field hospitals, medicines and tents to be rushed to Indonesia's earthquake victims within three days.

The appeal to donor governments and agencies came after officials from the United Nations and the Red Cross met in Geneva to organise the international response to Saturday's quake near the city of Yogyakarta.

"The most urgent needs to be delivered within three days are three field hospitals, with a capacity of 100 beds each, medical supplies mostly for orthopaedic treatment, generators, tents and shelter items," Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the UN humanitarian coordination office (OCHA), told AFP.

Byrs said the international Red Cross was ready swiftly to deliver 10,000 tents stocked in Asia. But "more will be needed," she cautioned.

The meeting in Geneva was held under OCHA's umbrella after the quake killed more than 5,100 people on Indonesia's main island of Java and left thousands injured in overcrowded hospitals.

Up to 25,000 houses were reported damaged and 4,000 of them were completely destroyed, the OCHA said in a statement. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimated that 100,000 people may be homeless.

Hygiene and clean drinking water were also the top priorities, international relief officials in the quake zone said Monday.

A team of seven Asian-based UN experts, who were sent to the region when Indonesia formally called for help Sunday, were assessing the scale of the damage and exactly what kind of assistance was needed, Byrs said.

The OCHA, which is in charge of organising the flow of supplies and offers of help from governments, has set up a main coordination centre at Yogyakarta airport.

International agencies have maintained a heavy presence in Indonesia following the 9.3-magnitude quake off Sumatra in 2004 and the ensuing tsunami which left 168,000 people dead in the province of Aceh.

That emergency relief effort, the world's biggest on record, was sharply criticised after inappropriate supplies were flown in and bottlenecks hampered the delivery of emergency care.

"It is clear that the government agencies have learned many lessons from responding to the tsunami, and they understand the importance of coordination and how to deliver materials in a timely manner," said Ronnie Bala, a logistics expert for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

The IOM joined the mounting relief effort by distributing 35 tons of food, water and medical supplies to the worst hit areas near Yogyakarta, with a fleet of 30 trucks.

Amid complaints from survivors of a slow response, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged better coordination both inside Indonesia and with foreign parties to ensure swift delivery of much-needed supplies.

"There were cases (in the past) when despite a large amount of aid supplies, distribution work often failed to reach those in need," Yudhoyono said.

"We don't want any assistance to miss the target -- not even a kilogram of rice."

On Sunday, the UN's World Food Programme began distributing emergency food rations to survivors in the worst affected districts, Bantul and Klaten, by drawing on stocks already in the country.

The initial 30 tonnes of emergency supplies of high-energy biscuits were sufficient to feed around 20,000 people for seven days, the WFP said in a statement. A medical team was also sent to the area.

"This is a terrible tragedy for so many people, in a country which has already suffered so much," said WFP Executive Director James Morris.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies earlier launched an emergency appeal for 12 million Swiss francs (9.79 million dollars, 7.68 million euros) for assistance to survivors of the earthquake.

Red Cross medical teams were rushed from neighbouring Asian countries to back up colleagues in Indonesia.

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Indonesia races to cope with quake survivors
Bantul, Indonesia (AFP) May 29, 2006
Indonesia raced to cope with thousands of injured and homeless earthquake survivors Monday as the United Nations vowed help would come faster than after the 2004 Asian tsunami. As the death toll from Saturday's powerful quake jumped to more than 5,100 people, relief officials urged nations to rush in badly needed field hospitals, medicines, tents and supplies.

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