YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia -- The tiny one-lane roads around the town of Klaten in central Java were lined with ragged children thrusting buckets at passing cars yesterday, survivors of last week’s earthquake who are hungry and desperate for a handout.
As the rescue effort wound down this weekend and thoughts of reconstruction started, thousands of people were still without adequate help a week after the disaster that killed 6300, injured 46,000 and might have left more than half a million homeless.
Among the child beggars was 11-year-old Hariyanto Pamungkas, whose younger brother Ariurbowo died when the roof of their home collapsed at 6am on Saturday.
Hari hadn’t eaten since the previous afternoon. Around him was a scene of extraordinary devastation in a lush landscape. The emerald-green rice paddies and groves of coconuts and papayas which guarantee prosperity for his farming village were littered with piles of rubble that used to be homes. Survivors had carefully carried out a few intact wardrobes and fridges from the wreckage but most had lost everything.
Hundreds of people are sleeping under tarpaulins or in makeshift huts, and probably will be for months or years to come. Many are too scared to return to buildings which still stand, fearful that one of the 1000 aftershocks of the past seven days could develop into a massive new earthquake.
Fears of more earthquakes, tsunamis, or volcanic eruptions sweep the little camps dotting the countryside around Yogyakarta. Madame Lauren, one of the city’s best-known fortune tellers, has terrified everyone by predicting a bigger earthquake in two weeks’ time.
Aftershocks cause panic. Taxi driver Suroto said: “I was driving and my taxi shook like crazy. I saw people running from their homes. There are so many rumours about more earthquakes.”
Problems delivering aid to remote villages have forced children to beg by the roadside and villagers to loot food lorries but, after the chaos of the first few days, a better-organised aid effort was clearly visible this weekend.
Many victims have lost everything. Central Java is prosperous, however, and has good infrastructure. Fears of post-disaster hunger and disease have so far proved groundless, although a volcanic eruption is now feared. Merapi, one of Java’s most active volcanoes, has shown increased signs of activity since the earthquake, and thousands live under its cone.
When disaster struck, what possibly prevented a much more costly human tragedy was the spirit of traditional community self-help, called gotong royong by the Javanese.
In Hari’s village of Gunungan-Widi a communal kitchen was quickly set up, available food was shared and shelters were improvised out of tarpaulins or tin sheets against both the hot sun and the heavy rain that tormented survivors.
Chess sets and intact televisions were rescued from the rubble to provide a little distraction from the misery and traumatised children were comforted by all the adults every time an aftershock rippled beneath them. At night, groups of young men patrolled with sticks and swords to protect their community against thieves.
The villagers might have taken over but they want to see more of the government. They also worry whether they will get the help that has been promised.
Ngadimin, a teacher and village elder, said: “We think we will be camped here for about two or three months, but we will need help to rebuild our homes and we are wondering if we will we get it.”
With more than 100,000 buildings destroyed, reconstruction will be a colossal task. The United Nations has drawn up a six-month, $100 million plan for emergency shelter and assistance, warning that there is now a race against time to help survivors, but it will almost certainly be years before rebuilding is completed.
Indonesian officials, many with experience of dealing with the much bigger disaster of the tsunami to draw on, are determined to keep the process as corruption-free as possible in a notoriously corrupt nation. They are trying to harness the spirit of gotong royong to the task. Villagers whose homes are now piles of rubble will be paid compensation and given the tools and skills to rebuild. Government officials have pledged to involve village elders at all stages of the project.
Many of the victims fear the future. Pujiri Yanto, a 33-year-old lecturer at Yogyakarta State University, said five people had died in his village, Togalrego Monggung, and most of its buildings had been destroyed.
He confessed that the greatest fear was that no real government rebuilding aid would be forthcoming.
“We need it if our village is to survive,” he said. “We worry that the government isn’t really committed. And this is Indonesia. We worry about corruption.”
© 2006 The Sunday Herald