Bunga Pasang, Indonesia (AFP) Oct 6, 2009
Indonesian housewife Edib Mulyati stands in the ruins of her quake-hit house and smiles bitterly at the government's promises of aid, saying most of it will be lost to corruption.
Married to a low-ranking civil servant, she knows how the system works and expects nothing more than a trickle of funds to reach those most in need after the money passes through the various levels of government.
"It gets thinner and thinner and then just a mouse's tail comes out the bottom. That's Indonesia," she told AFP in the village of Bunga Pasang on the outskirts of the worst-hit city of Padang.
Indonesia, a developing nation of 234 million people, ranks 126th on a corruption perceptions index compiled by watchdog Transparency International, putting it on par with African nations Uganda and Libya.
The government has pledged 6.0 trillion rupiah (624 million dollars) for reconstruction efforts in West Sumatra where up to 200,000 homes are estimated to have been damaged in last week's 7.6-magnitude quake.
In Mulyati's house, the family of four has abandoned the wrecked inner rooms for the relative safety of the front loungeroom, where they sleep with the front door wide open in case they need to make a quick escape.
Her husband, who declined to be named in fear for his job, said his family was already 75 million rupiah in debt and could not afford to rebuild without the help of the government.
"I've heard the government wants to give out aid but we're not convinced we're going to get it," he said.
"The ministers at the centre said the assistance won't be skimmed. But in reality it is."
Security guard Ali Lintar, a 36-year-old whose extended family's four homes were levelled in the quake, said he had first-hand experience of how aid vanished on its way to the needy.
When his simple home was toppled by quakes that struck further south on Sumatra island in 2007, Lintar was promised 15 million rupiah (1,575 dollars) to rebuild, but he says he got half that amount.
"I want to rebuild but I don't have the money," he said at the front door of his mother's crumpled brick and aluminium sheeting home.
"Maybe there'll be government help, we hope. If there isn't, we're already poor, so we'll live in tents," said Lintar, who earns about one million rupiah a month.
Padang's mayor, Fauzi Bahar, promises a prompt response and says the aid will reach people like Lintar and others made homeless.
"I guarantee 100 percent that there's no such thing as corruption and will never be," he said.
"We'll spend all donations and funds on the people. We won't misuse them and let our people suffer."
Lintar's mother, 50-year-old Eti Aslyarti, said the initial reaction had been far from reassuring.
A few Red Cross workers passed through to survey the damage and then a handful of government officials appeared to hand everyone a single small packet of cooked rice.
"Five minutes and they were out," she said bitterly.
Next door, beneath a precariously leaning two-storey home of concrete and pastel walls, 47-year-old policeman Eroplis sobbed as he recounted how much he has lost.
"For 24 years I worked, I saved and I saved," he said, placing his head in his hands.
"I still will rebuild. I'll borrow from whatever bank to rebuild. Even after I die, I want to leave it to my children to live out their lives.
"In this catastrophe, if they want to help us, they should put the money right into our hands."
earlier related report
At the crumpled Ambacang Hotel in the city centre, excavators briefly ceased digging when workers thought they heard a woman's cries for help, but a search revealed no further signs of life.
"There's no one alive. I stopped all the machinery to ensure that the family of the victims were satisfied," the commander of the clean-up operation, Haris Sarjana, told AFP.
Another 10 bodies were pulled from wreckage around Padang, including six from the Ambacang, provincial disaster management operation head Ade Edward said.
"We've also started to spray disinfectant to get rid of the stench and are clearing up the debris using heavy machinery," he added.
In the rugged hills to the east and north of the city, hundreds of people remained buried beneath massive landslides that swallowed villages when the 7.6-magnitude quake struck off the coast of western Sumatra last Wednesday.
A Red Cross official said the final death toll would exceed 3,000, although the national Disaster Management Agency put the latest toll at 704, with 295 missing.
Between 170,000-200,000 homes were damaged, with about half this number completely destroyed, said Bob McKerrow, the head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Indonesia.
Helicopters dropped vital supplies to cut-off farming communities which relief workers could not reach by road.
More choppers were on their way aboard US Navy ships in a multimillion-dollar effort to aid victims of the earthquake, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in Washington.
About 45 metric tonnes (50 tons) of relief goods from US Agency for International Development stockpiles were due to arrive in Padang on Tuesday.
"This includes plastic sheeting, hygiene kits, generators and this will all be distributed via the Red Cross," Kelly told reporters.
Meanwhile, a US Navy field hospital that will treat up to 400 people a day was opened in Padang and would start treating patients on Wednesday, a US official said.
The United States is also sending a seven-person mobile field surgical team and two warships with helicopters that will fly to the hardest-hit rural areas.
Australia has sent military engineers and medics on the ground, and two C-130 aircraft transporting personnel, equipment and stores between Jakarta and Padang, the Australian embassy said.
Most foreign search and rescue teams are leaving the country, with almost no hope any more survivors will be found beneath the debris seven days after the quake.
As the aid effort shifted gear, the city began to show signs of recovery.
"Sixty percent of markets have reopened, the schools have all reopened, people have gone back to work and fishermen have gone back to sea," Padang Mayor Fauzi Bahar told AFP.
The UN children's agency UNICEF said almost 70,000 children, or about 40 percent of the city's students, were back in class Tuesday.
"This is an important sign that life will return to normal for children affected by this tragedy," UNICEF country representative Angela Kearney said.
The government has pledged six trillion rupiah (624 million dollars) for reconstruction efforts in Sumatra, but many fear the money will be lost to corruption as it flows through the local government.
"It gets thinner and thinner and then just a mouse's tail comes out the bottom. That's Indonesia," housewife Edib Mulyati told AFP in the village of Bunga Pasang on the outskirts of Padang.
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