Quake-battered Indonesia accepts foreign aid, reluctantly

Quake-battered Indonesia accepts foreign aid, reluctantly

JAKARTA - AFP
Quake-battered Indonesia accepts foreign aid, reluctantly

Indonesia’s president formally invited foreign donors to contribute to rescue and recovery efforts on the quake-and-tsunami-struck island of Sulawesi Monday, but his government was at pains to stress the situation was under control.

"The President has decided to accept aid from abroad," said army general-turned-minister Wiranto -- who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

Giving a less than full-throated welcome to offers of help -- even as the United Nations warned that 191,000 people were in urgent need -- Wiranto explained president Joko Widodo’s acceptance in almost apologetic terms.

"There are a lot of offers from other countries to help the disaster in Palu, of course, we appreciate the requests," said Wiranto, citing the need to keep up good bilateral relations with many countries.

"Another consideration is, Indonesia has also often contributed and given aid," he said.

"Helping each other is an international tradition which we need to appreciate."

Around 18 countries and scores of non-governmental aid groups have offered to help in the four days since the quake and tsunami that killed hundreds, but until now have not been able to.

Many in the humanitarian sector have privately expressed frustration about sitting on the sidelines as residents of Sulawesi turn to looting for water, food or petrol and many trapped in the rubble cannot be freed for lack of heavy machinery.

Since the quake and tsunami on Friday the Indonesian military has taken a lead role, flying in some aid and evacuating residents, but also placing restrictions on foreigners flying directly into the disaster zone.

It is a rescue and recovery role that the military has increasingly embraced since 2010, when floods, a volcanic eruption and a tsunami hit the country in short order, according to Evan Laksmana, a military expert who has written on the issue.

President Widodo himself visited Palu on Sunday. With a re-election campaign well underway, he is keen to show that the situation is under control and that this disaster-prone nation has the tools to help its own citizens.

A relative political outsider, Widodo came to power in 2014 stressing the need to uphold Indonesia’s sovereignty.

During a spate of devastating earthquakes on the island of Lombok this summer, the government did not call for foreign aid and refused to declare a state of emergency.

Wiranto said it was important now that aid comes quickly and is tailored to need.

"What we need now is first, air transport assistance. Electricity is dead, fuel is scarce, communication is dead. Roads are damaged."

Indonesia, earthquake, tsunami