Nias quake victims in dire need of food

Saturday, April 2, 2005
By nias

Saturday, April 02, 2005 Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post/Nias

It has been four days since earthquake refugee Nujila Zendato and her five children have eaten a proper meal, because food has not been handed out to her and other displaced people.

That is what prompted her to storm on Friday the disaster control center in Gunung Sitoli here and scream for food.

"We want rice! We haven't eaten for four days, we're all hungry!" screamed the mother to Nias administration secretary FGM Zebua.

Her demand was to no avail, though, as Zebua could not be sure when the food relief would be delivered to the refugees.

"Be patient, ma'am.. the food is on the way here from Sibolga (North Sumatra). We'll give it to all of the refugees," Zebua said.

He said the rice supply here before the earthquake was only around 50 tons, and that had already been distributed to several districts. They are now waiting, Zebua said, for the relief distributed by the Ministry of Social Services, which was still apparently held up in Sibolga regency.

Hearing that information only angered Nujila further because, as she claims, very few, if any refugees in Nias have been given rice.

"There's no way that 50 tons were distributed. Many refugees are still hungry. We've been surviving on bananas only," said Nujila, who works as a farmer in Lalai village, Hiliduo district.

Along with her husband and their five children, she moved to the mountainous area above Gunung Sitoli, after Monday's earthquake destroyed their house. All of her family members survived the temblor.

Data from the disaster control center shows that there are 20,000 refugees out of a total of over 422,000 in Nias regency. That does not, however, include the refugees in South Nias regency, which has population of around 300,000 people.

The refugees are living in terrible conditions, and most complain of weakness and fainting spells due to a lack of rice. Some have scoured around destroyed houses to find instant noodles and other items.

Ridwan Koto, who is staying at a shelter for the West Sumatran ethnic group at Gunung Sitoli elementary school with about 100 displaced people, says he feels fortunate if he can eat instant noodles and share with other refugees.

"My house was not badly destroyed, so there was some food left. Anything edible, we eat together. We'd die of starvation if we had to rely on the government to distribute food," said Ridwan, who lost two siblings in the earthquake.

Another West Sumatran refugee Hasmaini Sikupang, 41, said he was sick, tired and embarrassed to look for handouts everywhere, but even when he did, he could find nothing.

"It's either finished or has not arrived yet. I'm so confused. We hope the government gives us some food soon," said Hasmaini, who has been teaching at SMP 1 junior high school for 16 years.

Aside from rice, he said the refugees were hoping for clean water facilities. Water has become scarce, to the point that most people have to walk over two kilometers up a hill in order to bathe.

Meanwhile, Minister of Social Services Bachtiar Chamsyah said in his visit here that the trouble with the aid distribution was related to transportation problems as roads and the runway at the local airport had been badly damaged.

"There are around 365 tons of rice on the way to Nias and South Nias. This stock should be sufficient for the refugees for the next few months," Bachtiar said.

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