Why are there aid delays in Indonesia?

Written by Thaïs Cardon |

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gerald R. Willis

After a magnitude 7.5 earthquake and ensuing tsunami hit the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on Friday 28th September, authorities scrambled to put together resources to save people trapped under rubble and bring food and clean water to the north of the island.

What’s surprising is the time it took the Indonesian authorities to accept aid – the head of the Indonesian investment board tweeted their agreement to receive help only on Monday, according to Reuters, saying that president Joko Widodo agreed on Sunday evening, creating the delay.

 

“Countries only receive aid if they accept it – for example, the USA refused the UN’s help after Hurricane Katrina, and Myanmar refused entry in the ports for aid sent by foreign countries after cyclone Nargis.”

 

Countries only receive aid if they accept it – for example, the USA refused the UN’s help after Hurricane Katrina, and Myanmar refused entry in the ports for aid sent by foreign countries after cyclone Nargis. This may be because the country considers itself to be able to deal with the crisis alone, or that it wants to avoid letting foreigners come in for the purpose of charity and then stay and take advantage of the low cost of living. Either way, the choice has an impact on the number of lives saved.

Indonesia is also restricting foreign air traffic into the island. Though their airlines are still landing and taking off at the local airport, it is likely that they are being selective about whom they want to receive aid from.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho has stated that priority will be given to aid from Australia, the United States, Morocco, South Korea, the European Union, China, Singapore, Turkey, the Philippines and Switzerland. Some countries are choosing to donate via the Red Cross, which operates in Indonesia already.

So far, seventeen countries and the European Union have offered their assistance and authorities are drafting a “mechanism” to assess the aid, calculate the effect it could have and therefore maximise its use and effectiveness. This may well further delay the rescue of many people trapped under rubble and restrict the number of injured ones to receive treatment.

These delays – the time it took to accept aid and announce it, the organisation of a “mechanism” and the prioritisation of aid from certain countries – has almost certainly impacted on the number of lives lost: 1,600, at the time of writing, and is steadily rising.

Many could have very well been avoided had Indonesia already had a protocol for accepting foreign aid during natural disasters in place, which, given its location in a seismic area, would only make sense. They already have a governmental agency in place, the National Board for Disaster Management, yet it seems as if there is no regular communication between the board and the president to anticipate and prepare for such incidents.

If countries prepared for natural disasters the way they prepare for terrorist attacks or even war – with drills, protocols and local forces trained to help in such situations – many more lives could be saved.

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