Members of German nongovernmental organization International Search and Rescue (ISAR) give purified water to people in a suburb of Palu, Central Sulawesi, on Tuesday. (Reuters Photo/Hannibal Hanschke)

Gov't Tells Independent Foreign Aid Workers to Leave C. Sulawesi Quake Zone


OCTOBER 09, 2018

Palu. The government ordered independent foreign aid workers on Tuesday to leave the quake zone and said foreign groups with staff in the disaster area in Central Sulawesi should pull them out.

Indonesia has traditionally been reluctant to be seen as relying on outside help to cope with disasters, and the government shunned foreign aid this year when a series of devastating earthquakes struck Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara.

But it has accepted help from abroad to cope with the aftermath of a magnitude-7.4 quake and tsunami that hit Palu and Donggala in Central Sulawesi on Sept. 28, killing more than 2,000 people.

Despite that, some foreign groups say they have faced difficulties getting entry permits to bring in staff and equipment, and there has been confusion about the rules.

There have long been restrictions on the activity of foreign aid workers, and the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), in a notice posted on Twitter, set out the rules for foreign nongovernmental organizations.

Foreign groups are not allowed to "go directly to the field" but must conduct all activities "in partnership with local partners," it said.

"Foreign citizens who are working with foreign NGOs are not allowed to conduct any activity on the sites affected," it said.

"Foreign NGOs who have deployed their foreign personnel are advised to retrieve their personnel immediately," the agency said in its English-language notice.

The official death toll rose to 2,010 on Tuesday, with most of the fatalities in Palu, which bore the brunt of the disaster.

No one knows how many people are missing, especially in areas south of Palu devastated by soil liquefaction, but it could be as high as 5,000, the BNPB said.

About 70,000 people have been displaced.

'Political Sensitivities'

A few foreign aid workers have been in the disaster zone, including some searching for survivors in the ruins of collapsed buildings in Palu. A German group brought in a water-purification system.

As well as being concerned to show it can manage disasters on its own, Indonesian governments are wary of being too open to outside help because they could face criticism from political opponents.

There is particular resistance to the presence of foreign military personnel as it could be seen as an infringement of sovereignty.

"There are political sensitivities, especially with an election coming up, and sovereignty is another issue," said Keith Loveard, senior analyst with advisory and risk firm Concord Consulting, referring to next year's presidential and legislative polls.

Most countries regulate the activities of foreign aid groups but restrictions are sometimes set aside after major disasters.

Many of the displaced in Central Sulawesi are living in basic shelters in Palu and surrounding hills. A plan to relocate communities is being drawn up, the BNPB said.

The government has allocated Rp 560 billion ($37 million) for quake relief and has said some 20 countries have offered help.

Indonesia sees frequent earthquakes and occasional tsunamis.

In 2004, a quake off Aceh triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean that killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

Foreign governments and aid groups played a big role in the emergency response and recovery efforts in 2004.

Additional reporting by John Chalmers in Jakarta