Tuesday, January 04, 2005


Life in Banda Aceh

Some news from the Earthquake zone

The World Health Organization (WHO) said cases of pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria and skin infections were emerging along with some cases of gangrene because survivors had been exposed to polluted water and not treated carefully enough.

Vijay Nath, a WHO medical officer supervising the emergency response program in Banda Aceh, said he had a fairly good picture of the health situation in the provincial capital and there had been no confirmed cases of cholera.

"But on the west coast, we just don't know what is happening," he said.

Parts of Banda Aceh city were deserted, especially the downtown area near the waterfront, where buildings were flattened by the massive Dec. 26 quake and killer waves. Small fires smoldered in a desperate attempt to burn stacks of debris.

In front of a collapsed shopping mall where food and water were being distributed, at least 1,000 people queued for water from a private aid station set up by businessmen.

Volunteers handed out rice, marking people's fingers with ink that would wash off after a day to allow them to collect more.

Residents said that, outside the huge makeshift refugee camps, it was still a struggle to get adequate food and water for their families, many of whom were injured or sick.

"If you don't live in a refugee camp, you have to queue like this. It's very hard for us also out here," Ramzi, 27, told Reuters as he queued for water. He said he and 15 relatives were living in a house undamaged by the tsunami.

The Health Ministry said nearly 400,000 people were refugees in Aceh, a province of about four million at the northern tip of Sumatra. More than 94,000 were killed in Indonesia, two thirds of the total toll of nearly 145,000.

When I was a kid in New Orleans, I went through the devastation of Hurricane Betsy...we had no power for days, contaminated water, rubble everywhere...people I knew were trapped for days in their attics waiting for the waters to go down. A few years later, I saw the power of water when we saw the scouring of what Hurricane Camille did to the nearby gulf coast. When I was grown, I discovered what it is like to come home and find your home destroyed by an arsonist. Yet these are small scale destructions compared to what these people are going through.

Don't forget them. It takes time to rebuild.

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