Officials denied on Monday reports that aid is rotting in ports as desperate tsunami survivors scavenge for wild roots a week after the disaster that killed around 450 people.
As President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the country would accept foreign money for reconstruction of the tsunami-hit villages, there were also reports that the government planned to relocate people away from the coast.
Survivors of last Monday’s three-metre wave in the Mentawai islands off western Sumatra have complained that aid has been too slow to reach them, and relief workers have said coordination has been poor.
The wave was triggered by a 7.7-magnitude offshore earthquake and flattened around 10 villages, destroying schools, mosques and flimsy traditional homes along remote and undeveloped beaches popular with foreign surfers.
About 13,000 have been made homeless and another 88 are still listed as missing, feared dead.
Officials admit that only a fraction of supplies such as food, water, tents, medicine and blankets that have reached nearby ports have been distributed to survivors, citing bad weather and a lack of boats and helicopters.
Tonnes of aid have been piling up at the Sumatran port of Padang, half a day’s voyage away by sea from the worst-hit islands, and at unaffected towns on the Mentawais such as Sikakap and Tua Pejat.
“We understand that there’s been bad weather, that’s a serious challenge. But this should have been predicted earlier,” said Khalid Saifullah, a coordinator for independent local aid agencies.
“It seems that the local government has treated this matter too lightly … Delays have been due to inadequate preparation.”
The Jakarta Globe reported that food aid such as rice and instant noodles had been drenched in seawater, and witnessed incidents of looting by local aid workers in Tue Pejat.
It also found that aid officials were confused about who was in charge of the relief effort.
Disaster management official Joskamatir said reports about looting, poor coordination and food going bad on the docks were “untrue.”
“The delays were due to unfriendly weather. But now we can reach the affected areas and aid is being sent, although it’s limited,” he said.
“The relief operations are going very smoothly. Everyone is working very hard — volunteers, officials, the aid agencies.”