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National: Politics
[ National: Politics ]

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Politics: Malaysia Pitches In with Quake Relief
Posted on Wednesday, May 31 @ 02:07:15 CDT
Topic: National: Politics
National: PoliticsBaradan Kuppusamy

KUALA LUMPUR, May 30 (IPS) - Indonesia's closest neighbour Malaysia, which is host to some two million Indonesian migrant workers, half of them undo*****ented, has been rushing food, tent, doctors, nurses and medicines to earthquake hit Java.

Dozens of voluntary groups, including the Malaysian Red Crescent Society, Mercy Malaysia and others have set up centres to accept dry food, clothes, tents and medicines for people injured and displaced by Saturday's temblor in central Java.

The country's 56-member disaster assistance and relief team or SMART, with five doctors and paramedics was one of the first foreign assistance teams to arrive in the disaster area with one ton of medicines, blankets and biscuits.

Malaysia has also asked medical students from this country, studying in Yogyakarta, Central Java's main city and an academic centre, to help in the medical effort. Some 350 Malaysian medical students in Yogyakarta are said to be staying back.

Medicos who have returned to Malaysia paint a grim picture. ''The grieving survivors are exhausted and scavenging for food and clothes while the rain falls incessantly. Everything is wet and the smell of dead bodies is in the air," said student Norma Hassan. ''It looks like another Aceh,'' she told IPS.

"It is our duty to help neighbour Indonesia," said Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Meanwhile, scores of Indonesian migrant workers have been crowding the Indonesian embassy and offices of non-government organisations (NGOs) here for news of relatives and friends in quake-hit Yogyakarta district.

The Malaysian Red Crescent Society has set up a "Restoring Family Links" telephone service for migrant workers anxious to contact their loved ones in Yogyakarta. The society has also established a relief fund for victims of the earthquake.

While disaster experts welcome the mobilisation of relief supplies, there is also the fear that the initial media driven effort would diminish and that earthquake victims would be left fending out for themselves as happened during the 2004 tsunami in Aceh..

"We are worried that the mobilisation might end if the media moves on leaving the long term needs of the victims unattended," said a senior Malaysian Red Crescent official.

"We are also worried that media is driving the relief effort and materials are being collected that would be costly to airlift and end up in the black market in Indonesia," the expert said.

"The best donation the public can make is cash," the officials said. "Cash is easy to transfer and will be used at the local level to procure all that the injured and the displaced need. It also helps the local economy," he said.

Although Malaysian aid workers are not saying it, one worry is the rampant corruption among officials in Indonesia. "Will all the aid reach the intended people or be pilfered away and end up in the black market," asked a doctor with a regional relief agency that is sending a seven-member medical team to Yogyakarta.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is camping in Yogyakarta said Monday that care would be taken to ensure relief funds and material would reach quake victims and warned government officials against misappropriation.

"I have asked (officials), and this has been implemented, that we must maintain transparency and accountability. Don't misappropriate one dollar ..." he told reporters.

There is also the fear that a glut of material would build up as a result of Malaysian media's appeals for materials like tents, bottled water and clothes and things that people wanted to get rid of.

During the 2004 tsunami containers load of household stuff "donated" for the displaced people in Aceh ended up rotting in warehouses in Malaysia, Sri Lanka and in Medan Indonesia, as a result of bureaucracy, ill conceived charity and the prohibitive cost of moving bulky items by air.

"People want to help but they must be directed to help by donating cash," said S. Arulchelvam, secretary general of the Socialist Party of Malaysia. "The media must be more responsible and educate the people about the true dimensions of disaster and how best to bring assistance," he told IPS.

Cultural and linguistic similarity between Indonesians and Malays, who form 60 percent of Malaysia's 26 million people, are considered strong factors in offering serious and long term assistance.

Indonesian migrant workers are the mainstay of Malaysia's construction and plantation sectors and the majority of workers are from Java.

Cordial personal and political relations between Indonesian president Bambang Yudhoyono and Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi are a help. "I have informed President Susilo that we will do all we can," Abdullah said upon arriving from an official visit to Japan.

A member of the Mercy Malaysia relief team Dr Shalimar Abdullah Shalimar, 30, said: "We are going to help get a damaged hospital up and running. One hospital has collapsed and three others are damaged."

The death toll in the 6.3 magnitude earthquake has risen over 5,500 and tens of thousands of displaced persons are reported sheltering under trees and makeshift shelters of plastic, canvas or cardboard as the area continues to be hit by aftershocks.

Aid workers said about 200,000 people have been left homeless by the disaster which struck before dawn on Saturday.

The quake was the fourth destructive temblor to hit Indonesia in 17 months. On Dec. 26, 2004, a great earthquake measuring 9.2 struck off Acheh and caused a tsunami that killed 230,000 people around the Bay of Bengal and Indoan Ocean regions.

Increased volcanic activity on Mount Merapi, north of Yogyakarta, are adding to Java's troubles and there are fears of a sudden eruption. (END/2006)



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