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Tough start for Indonesia's quake babies

Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Staff Writers
Kembangsongo, Indonesia (AFP) Jun 4, 2006
They named him Slamet Lindu Agi -- "Saved from the Powerful Earthquake".

He was born at night in a small plastic tent as rain pelted down, with no light except for a candle, on May 27 -- the day the 6.3-magnitude quake rocked Indonesia's main island of Java.

"I named him Slamet to remember the day," says his 21-year-old mother Tutik, sitting in a makeshift shelter across from her ruined home. "I will remember all this."

The baby boy is one of an estimated three dozen children born every day in the most devastated areas of the quake zone, starting off their lives under especially harrowing conditions.

Aid agencies say pregnant women are often overlooked in disaster situations, with attention focused on those with serious injuries, and warn that without medical care and clean water, the women and their babies will suffer.

"The main problem is lack of access to hygiene, to water and lack of access to ante-natal care," says Melania Hidayat, a reproductive health expert for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

"If basic care is not taken care of immediately or properly, it can end in premature deliveries," she says.

Tutik, who lives in the remote village of Kembangsongo in southeast Bantul, was resting in bed on May 27 when the ground shook violently.

A few hours later, she started to have strong contractions, two weeks ahead of her due date.

"I was so scared. I was worried for the safety of my child and myself as well," she says, looking at Slamet, who lay sleeping on a small pillow, swaddled in a green felt blanket and a yellow crocheted cap.

Asked to describe the birth of her son under such conditions, with aftershocks still rattling the area, Tutik comes up with only one word: "Unimaginable".

Rallying to help, villagers have built a small shelter opposite the large white house where Tutik and her husband used to live -- a dwelling which now has no roof and cracks through its walls.

The shelter is simply a wooden platform with a roof of corrugated metal and plastic sheeting supported by bamboo poles.

Straw mats and thin pieces of wood form three walls of the shelter. A kerosene lamp hangs over a thin double mattress with three pillows which fills most of the floor space.

Nurlia Amron, the 44-year-old midwife who brought Slamet into the world, says the delivery left her trembling.

"When I was helping with the delivery, I was really traumatised and panicked because of the tremors. I thought it would be like the first earthquake," says the midwife.

"I only had a plastic tent. It is tiny and it was very dark and water was splashing into the tent."

Based on the UNFPA's rough estimates of the birth rates in devastated Bantul and Klaten districts, Hidayat says dozens of women were expected to deliver in the coming week, many with little support.

The UN agency has started distributing gloves, syringes and other sterile equipment to help midwives.

"Our objective during this emergency period is to ensure that all the pregnant women receive appropriate, continuous ante-natal care, and all the deliveries are assisted by health professionals," Hidayat says.

"Some pregnant women are now having contractions even in their sixth or seventh months of pregnancy, and probably this is because of the trauma or stress," says the UNFPA expert, who has been touring quake-hit areas since last Tuesday.

Hidayat Wartini, 27, is due to give birth on June 14.

When the earthquake hit, Wartini was in the kitchen in her home in Bendogorok. She rushed out of her house but was hit by a collapsing wall and fell on her stomach.

"I was afraid for my baby. I felt like the baby wasn't moving and I was scared something happened to it," says Wartini, who had a check-up two days later. "But hopefully everything is alright. I have felt it moving."

Wartini and her husband, who now live in a tiny tent and lost most of their belongings, have not had much rest as they try to cope without any government assistance.

"There's so much work. There's no electricity and I have to go and get water from the well myself," she says.

"I would like to stay in a better place after the birth but if there's nothing or there's no other place except the tent, I'll accept it."

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