Indonesia: UNICEF Crisis Appeal



More than 5,800 people were killed and an estimated 7,519 seriously injured by a powerful 6.3 earthquake that rocked central Java at 5:55 am on Saturday, May 27. The quake flattened neighborhoods in and around the densely-populated historical capital of Yogyakarta towards the southern coast of Jakarta, with 95% of the fatalities concentrated in Bantul District 25 km to the southwest. It is feared that hundreds more bodies may still be trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings.

Up to 200,000 people were left homeless, sleeping under plastic sheets and in makeshift centers, with thousands of wounded still on site throughout the area. Over 46,000 homes were destroyed or seriously damaged. People, already spooked by the threat of eruption of Mount Merapi in the same vicinity over the past weeks, and with the painful precedent of the tsunami triggered by a massive earthquake 18 months ago, were fearful to return to those homes that were still standing. Mosques, churches and other public buildings were overflowing.

The quake reduced many buildings to rubble and cut off essential services, as large cracks in roads and runways reduced movement to and from the area. Hospitals worked feverishly on injured people setting up makeshift wards in the open to help the injured and cope with the dead, as the death toll continued to rise steadily and aftershocks continued. However, the number of wounded quickly outpaced available medical services, with some hospitals receiving over 2,000 patients, and the gravely injured dying as they awaited services.

One of the six hospitals in Bantul collapsed. Others, packed to capacity, have run out of medical supplies. Many of those patients being treated in the open or under temporary tents have suffered from orthopedic injuries, concussions, and other internal injuries. District and Provincial Health Offices have made an urgent request for medical teams and field hospitals due to high number of injured people. Local anesthetics, bandages, and antibiotics are all top priorities, as is safe water for field hospitals.

Young children were hit particularly hard: Their small, fragile bodies were clearly no match for the concrete ceilings and walls that came down on them the previous dawn, and many toddlers were bandaged up almost beyond recognition. With medical supplies stretched thin and space in short supply, doctors were often forced to perform emergency surgery in the open air of the hospital’s front courtyard, sometimes without anesthesia. Parents struggled hard to calm the nerves of their injured children, many of whom were visibly traumatized or in a state of shock.

The Government of Indonesia declared a three month state of emergency on May 28, pledging to complete reconstruction and rehabilitation within a year.

UNICEF deployed a team to Yogyakarta in the first hours of the emergency and rapidly assembled emergency supplies such as tents, hygiene kits, health kits and school supplies, to send immediately to the earthquake zone. The team grew to 17 members in the first 72 hours.

Results of the preliminary assessment conducted by UNICEF in coordination with other UN Agencies revealed that while some buildings were heavily damaged in the city of Yogyakarta, no major structures collapsed. The heaviest damages occurred in Bantul District on the southern outskirts of the city, followed by Klaten, a town east of Yogyakarta. In one village visited by the team in Bantul, only 10 of 290 houses were still standing. Standing schools in these areas will not be able to function, as they have been taken over as temporary living shelters by persons displaced by the disaster. Provincial authorities also report that tents for shelter, food, and drinking water are urgently needed. The displaced population is now concentrated in two main locations in Bantul.

Power and communications services are still out in much of the area, causing the closure of gas stations. People, frantic for news of family and friends, clogged roads in private vehicles, conducting their own on-site searches. These factors hampered the communication flow, mobilization of emergency resources and the evacuation process.

The disaster comes right on the heels of a dizzying array of catastrophes in Indonesia. On December 26, 2004, a massive earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra, leaving some 166,561 people in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam (NAD) dead. On March 28, 2005, a second great quake measuring 8.7 on the Richter scale claimed nearly 700 more lives on the island of Nias and created a second wave of massive displacement. Both events caused immense social, economic and environmental upheaval, and huge losses of infrastructure and service capacity. In April 2005, the wild polio virus was imported, reversing Indonesia’s ten year polio-free status and causing a widespread outbreak affecting almost 300 children in 41 districts over the rest of 2005. Over the past ten months, avian influenza has struck 48 times, claiming 36 lives and generating widespread public anxiety about a pandemic.

Finally, the repeated eruption of Mount Merapi, just 50 km from the site of the earthquake and the most active and dangerous of Indonesia’s 129 volcanoes, intensified this month, causing an estimated 21,000 people to flee for safe haven in the densely-populated Central Java province. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, shallow quakes near volcanoes are not unusual and sometimes trigger magmatic processes that cause the eruption. There has been an ominous intensification of activity from the volcano in the days following the quake. The implications for UNICEF Indonesia is that we must immediately replenish these emergency stocks and supplies, as up to 80,000 people could be affected by an eruption.

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