August 15, 2013 – INDONESIA – Hundreds of evacuees of the eruption of the Rokatenda volcano on Palue Island, East Nusa Tenggara, are suffering from illnesses at three rescue centers, sparking claims the government has not provided enough assistance. “It seems like the central government is not paying enough attention. Is it because it has received low media coverage and so the government has not been that serious in helping?” said Saleh Husin, a legislator from the People’s Conscience Party (Hanura). Saleh, who comes from East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), said the central government should play a key role in the management of evacuees. Tini Thadeus, head of the local disaster mitigation agency, said up to 560 people have fallen ill with acute respiratory tract infections as of Wednesday. Tini noted that local medical teams on the field have been supported by medical teams from the Army and several nongovernmental organizations offering free medication at three evacuation points. The Sikka district had received plenty of aid, he said, but evacuees in Ropa in the district of Ende and Mbay in the Nagekeo district still require treatment. The local government has placed hundreds of evacuees at the former office building of the Sikka district head, where Tini said they could be better monitored by the aid teams as it was a more compact location. Tini said the medical teams were able to treat the sick evacuees without many problems. “The quick response [resulted in] almost every health-related issue being handled well,” he said. On Tuesday, NTT Governor Frans Lebu Raya visited the evacuees in their temporary tents and delivered up to five tons of rice along with Rp 50 million ($4,850) in cash as part of the province’s disaster response. During his visit, the governor met with victims and encouraged them to permanently leave their homes in Palue Island for safety reasons.
The volcano has had a history of activity, with the most recent eruption before Saturday’s being in February. Frans, who was accompanied by several officials from the local government, said his administration would provide victims with homes as well as farming or fishing facilities for them to be able to continue their livelihood activities. But in response to the proposal, refugees said the permanent move would be difficult because it would mean leaving behind their homes, livestock and farming areas, which were developed by their forefathers long ago. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has not visited NTT since the disaster. After a previous volcanic eruption in Yogyakarta, he spent a night with victims. Yudhoyono on Monday took to Twitter to express his sentiments on the disaster. “My condolences on the Rokatenda volcanic eruption disaster. BNPB [the National Disaster Mitigation Agency] has conducted evacuation efforts and continues to monitor the situation’s developments,” he said. Villagers in Palue have been reluctant to follow the government’s calls for evacuation despite strong eruptions since Saturday. The eruption has caused five fatalities so far. On Wednesday, the Rokatenda volcano continued to send clouds of hot ash over Palue Island. According to head of the volcanology agency office in Ende, two volcanic quakes occurred on Wednesday. The eruptions have been caused by a series of earth tremors, which are common across the country given Indonesia’s place along the seismic Ring of Fire. –Jakarta Globe