Indonesia limits foreign role in Sulawesi disaster relief

PALU, Indonesia (AP) – Indonesia’s disaster agency said yesterday that it only needs tents, water treatment units, generators and transport from other countries as it responds to the Sulawesi earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 2,000 people.

The agency’s spokesman, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, said the death toll from the double disaster on September 28 has risen to 2,045, with most of the fatalities in the coastal city of Palu.

Possibly 5,000 people are buried in obliterated parts of the city and its surrounds where the force of the quake liquefied the soil and sucked houses into the earth.

Nugroho reiterated at a news conference in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, that the official search for bodies will end today with mass prayers in hard-hit neighbourhoods but volunteers and family members can continue searching.

After a rare appeal for international assistance, Indonesia is now trying to limit foreign involvement in the disaster relief effort. Nugroho said there’s no need for international aid other than the four priorities identified by Indonesia.

The disaster agency has circulated guidelines that say foreign aid workers can be in the field only with Indonesian partners. Groups that had sent foreign personnel to the disaster zone are “advised to retrieve their personnel immediately,” according to those guidelines.

International aid groups with Indonesian sister organisations say foreign personnel they want to send are being vetted by the government in a process that takes several days or longer.

In a belated response to the influx of international journalists, Nugroho said foreign reporters need to apply for a journalist visa to report on the disaster. It’s likely the majority have already left.

Survivors sift through clothes donated by a charity at a tsunami-affected neighbourhood on the outskirts of Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. – AP