Feb 21, 2024 Last Updated 10:11 PM, Feb 20, 2024

Picking up the pieces

Rebuilding after an earthquake takes local initiatives as well as aid.

Anton Lucas

By the time Muhammad Idham Samawi, the popular bupati (district head) of Bantul, arrived at the government hospital 30 minutes after the earthquake had struck, the injured were already coming in. His instinct told him a huge event had just occurred. Before his day ended, Pak Idham had seen wounded dying alone on the footpath because the hospital was full, and helped people look for their dead and injured among piles of rubble. ‘We have to start from scratch to build Bantul again,’ he said.

The event turned out to be Yogyakarta’s biggest ever recorded earthquake (5.9 or 6.2 on the Richter scale). 6234 were dead and 46,000 were injured. 139,000 houses and 269 schools were destroyed and 1200 more schools were closed because they were unsafe. The task ahead is enormous. According to the Asian Development Bank, 130,000 have lost their jobs and 70,000 have lost their primary source of income.

Immediately after the quake, food and basic necessities were in short supply, although the local Bantul government had started to distribute promised emergency food and cash for living expenses (Rp3000 per day and 10 kilograms of rice per person per month). Emergency shelters couldn’t be built until the rubble was cleared away. In some villages, people had to shift rubble by hand and carry it away in makeshift stretchers, without shovels or barrows, before they could put up shelters.

Conflict over aid

Several days after the quake Vice President Jusuf Kalla promised government cash grants from Rp10 to Rp30 million for rebuilding houses, depending on how badly they were damaged. Local relief workers say he made this announcement prematurely. People whose houses were only lightly damaged began knocking them down to get the maximum grant. Teams begin visiting urban neighbourhoods in Yogyakarta to assess damaged homes almost immediately, but the worst affected areas in Bantul are left unassessed. ‘We’re getting information from the government, not aid,’ complained one village headman.

What’s more, the military in Jakarta think they are better at disaster relief than the civilian government. Early on they wanted to take over responsibility for the earthquake relief operation in Bantul. But the bupati said if this happened he wouldn’t cooperate. In Yogyakarta soldiers drive excavators that scoop up the rubble which people bring out of their neighbourhoods and dump by the side of the road. NGOs complained that local military volunteers in villages spend more time lounging around or asleep. The military charge Rp200,000 to take truckloads of relief aid from Bantul to the villages.

There is also conflict about the form aid should take. The bupati of Bantul says, ‘We must protect our work ethic’ and not become dependent on aid. He agrees with the Sultan of Yogyakarta that aid must not become a profit making exercise by outside suppliers, and must be in the form of donations not loans.

INFID claims that loans for earthquake reconstruction are immoral, accusing the central government of exploiting the earthquake to get more foreign loans.

But the national government says earthquake aid (US$500 million) must be interest free ‘soft’ loans repaid over 40 years. Meanwhile, the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID) claims that loans for earthquake reconstruction are immoral, accusing the central government of exploiting the earthquake to get more foreign loans. The national parliament says the bill for reconstruction should come from the 2006 national budget, not from foreign loans.

Local initiatives

Amongst all the confusion, local people are getting on with the job. Relief centres, or posko, have sprung up everywhere - in tents on soccer fields, among ruined buildings in villages and hamlets. These centres have set up public kitchens and coordinated the distribution of aid and the hundreds of volunteers that have arrived by the truckload to help clear away the rubble.

But traditional forms of self-help are undermined when international organisations such as the United Nations Development Programme pay local labour for reconstruction work. According to a representative of the Bantul Volunteer Recovery Team, ‘When we arrive with volunteers, the villagers think we are being paid as well. So they just watch us and don’t lend a hand.’

Whatever decisions are made about the form of national and international aid, it’s the local initiatives that will be crucial in the long process of reconstruction. The quake has left behind massive devastation and severe psychological trauma in Bantul. For the people of the district, healing the wounds left by the quake will only come through a mobilisation of their capacities and local knowledge in the rebuilding of their future. ii

Anton Lucas (anton.lucas@flinders.edu.au ) teaches Asian Studies and Indonesian at Flinders University and is director of the Flinders Asia Centre.

We can still offer you tea

With A$1000 from the Australian Indonesian Association of South Australia and other donations to give ‘directly to the people in need’, I made three trips into Bantul district (the worst hit area) three weeks after the earthquake to find out what these needs were. Bambang Nugroho, a lecturer in International Relations at Muhammadiyah University, who was my guide on one visit, had made a budget for emergency housing using timbers from demolished houses, with plywood walls, and tin roofs. ‘Woven bamboo panels would last longer than plywood’, he told me, ‘but there is no time or labour to make them.’ He had costed a house at Rp2.5 million (about A$425), cheaper if the labour is free.

But there was a problem. I had enough money for only five houses in a neighbourhood (RT) of 54 families, all of whom have no shelter. So who gets priority? Luckily the RT head was on hand to identify the most needy families. After some debate, five were chosen; widows or those with injured or sick elderly to care for, and a woman about to give birth. Bambang was happy with the choice and I respected his judgement.

Two days later members of the Bantul Volunteer Recovery Team (TSP Bantul), a coalition of civil society groups formed on the day of the earthquake, took me to Srihardjo village, near the Opak River, close to the epicentre. Of a population of 8847 (2407 families), 78 people had been killed. Half of those who survived have lost their homes. Another thousand homes have been damaged. The village educational infrastructure was gone – 5 primary schools, one junior high school, and 25 pre-schools were either destroyed completely or badly damaged.

In the two days of heavy rain after the earthquake struck, harvested rice not yet hulled was spoiled. Two weeks after the earthquake, sembako or the nine basic necessities (salt, sugar, dried fish, cooking oil, kerosene, laundry soap, rough textiles, batik to wear, and soap) were still in short supply. ‘We can still offer you tea,’ said the headman mournfully.

Inside Indonesia 88: Oct-Dec 2006

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