Thousands injured by Java quake lie waiting for medical aid to arrive
Tuesday 30 May 2006
Five-year-old Devinda was still alive yesterday, but only just. Her eyes were empty and she was almost motionless, a tiny figure lying on a Pooh Bear blanket. Devinda suffered internal injuries in the earthquake that struck Indonesia's Java island on Saturday, killing more than 5,000 people.
Her family took her to the PKU Muhammadiyah, one of the main hospitals in their home city of Yogyakarta. Nearly three days later, she was still awaiting a blood transfusion and surgery. The PKU, like other local hospitals, is hopelessly overwhelmed. Its hallways, alcoves and courtyards overflow with patients with head injuries and broken bones. They lie on mats, rigged up to drips and catheters, and spill out into the car park. More wait for treatment in adjacent buildings commandeered by the hospital, including a former bank and a primary school.
An estimated 20,000 people were hurt in the quake, according to Unicef, the United Nations children's fund. But at the PKU yesterday there was no sign of the medical assistance promised by foreign governments and international agencies. "We are short of antibiotics, painkillers, anti-tetanus and bandages," said Gunawan, an emergency paramedic.
Gunawan said the International Committee of the Red Cross and USAid, the US government aid agency, were supposed to be sending a surgeon and medical supplies. "They haven't come yet," he said. "We're still hoping. In the meantime, we're doing the best we can."
In a tiled corridor outside the operating room, 27-year-old Martoyo lay on a trolley, groaning with pain. A splint made of cardboard and plywood, held together with torn strips of bandages, supported his fractured right leg. When the earth shook, Martoyo grabbed his two-year-old son, Rizal, and held him tightly in his arms. The boy was unharmed, but a wall collapsed on Martoyo's leg. His mother and two nephews who lived in the same house in Bantul district, south of Yogyakarta, were killed. His wife, Ismiyati, who had gone out to buy rice for breakfast, escaped uninjured.
On the first floor of the hospital, in a small, sweltering room, Devinda and two other children lay staring at the ceiling. Ten-year-old Desi Norianti, who had a mangled leg and a badly bruised face, cried for her mother. But her mother, paralysed after her back was hit by falling masonry, was downstairs, about to go into surgery. Her father, Supriyanti, went back and forth between his two loved ones, struggling to contain his grief. Devinda's mother, Yuni, stroked her forehead ever so gently. The little girl was trapped under the ruins of their house in a residential district of Yogyakarta. As their neighbours fled in panic, fearing a tsunami, they rode their motorbikes over her body. "I'm so worried about her," said Yuni. "But they only tell us that we must be patient, we have to wait in line."
It is not only hospitals that have yet to receive assistance. The road to Bantul, the region worst affected, was lined with people begging for food and money yesterday. Some held up pieces of cardboard that stated, simply: "We need help." But during a four-hour tour of the district, the only sign of aid was one ambulance staffed by doctors and nurses, sent in by the Indonesian Red Cross. The delay is puzzling, for Indonesia - criticised for its lethargic response to the 2004 tsunami which devastated Aceh province - was supposed to have learnt from its mistakes. International agencies, meanwhile, were expected to act swiftly. Some already had personnel and supplies in the area, because of fears that a volcano, Mount Merapi, was about to erupt.
Help is said to be on the verge of arriving. A Unicef-chartered plane carrying water tanks, tents, stoves and cooking equipment landed yesterday. The UN plans to send in field hospitals and medical supplies in the next three days. The World Food Programme has already distributed a total of 30,000 tons of high-energy biscuits.
The international community has pledged tens of millions of dollars. But there is little indication of any of that on the ground, and the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, yesterday acknowledged a "lack of co-ordination" in aid distribution. Local media reported that a truck carrying relief supplies had been held up and plundered.
The disaster left up to 200,000 homeless, and most have yet to be given shelter. Just one tent has been delivered to a neighbourhood in Segoroyoso village where every house was destroyed and 183 people are sleeping in bamboo shacks.
Torrential rains have compounded their misery. The village head, Sunarno, said the only food aid received was instant noodles donated by a political party.
In Segoroyoso, goats and water buffalo wandered among the rubble, where a wooden dresser stood upright, still full of china. A lone brick wall, intact but leaning at a crazy angle, was covered in family photographs. Among the possessions retrieved from wrecked homes were children's picture books, and a cage with a songbird still twittering inside.
Sunarno led the way to the village cemetery, where 51 people were buried on Saturday in the shade of teak and cassava trees. The graves were marked by staves with a number attached by string. "My mother is in here," said Sunarno. "She's number eight."
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