RI Disaster Team Heading to Quake-Hit Haiti


Aditya Suharmoko , The Jakarta Post

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Indonesia would send a relief team to Haiti, which has been devastated by a strong earthquake on Tuesday with 100,000 people feared dead.

“I have ordered an Indonesian contingent to be sent to help the people of Haiti who are victims of this massive natural disaster,” the President said after taking part in evaluating the preparation of 3,000 members of the Rapid Reaction Team for Disaster Handling (SRC-PB) at the Halim Perdanakusumah airbase here on Thursday.

Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told CNN the death toll of the quake could be “well over 100,000” with tens of thousands confirmed dead and thousands more unaccounted for. Many people are believed to be trapped alive under the rubble after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake decimated the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince on Tuesday.

The earthquake in the Carribean archipelago has been in world headlines, with humanitarian aid coming in from countries worldwide.

Haiti’s devastation is all too familiar to Indonesia: a mammoth quake struck off the country’s western coast in 2004, spawning a tsunami that killed about 230,000 people in 14 countries — half of them in Indonesia.

“As a country that has been itself devastated by a similar situation, we are absolutely saddened by what’s happening in Haiti,” AP quoted Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa as saying at an ASEAN meeting in Vietnam. “We call on the ASEAN community, including ourselves, of course, to do what we can do to assist them.”

Two major donors, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, have cancelled US$1.2 billion in Haiti’s debts, freeing up funds for the government to pour cash into rebuilding roads, bridges and social programs, Reuters reported.

The World Bank has also pledged an extra $100 million in aid for Haiti and said it is considering setting up a special trust fund to mobilize and coordinate international aid for the country.

Yudhoyono said urgent action was needed to help Haitians because the first hours after the disaster were critical for saving lives.

“We shouldn’t waste time in the first hours after a disaster, it’s a golden chance. If we can quickly help those who can still be saved, then a lot of our brothers’ lives can be saved,” he said.

Meanwhile Syamsul Maarif, head of the National Agency for Disaster Management (BNPB), said the agency would send 30 medical officers from the Rapid Reaction Team along with food aid to Haiti on Friday.

The Foreign Ministry has confirmed that five Indonesians working in Haiti, including two UN staffers, survived the quake and were on their way home.

On Thursday Yudhoyono remained on site to evaluate the capability of the Rapid Reaction Team, which continued conducting their emergency drill despite a heavy downpour.

The team first flew over, mapping the disaster area. Information of the extent of the disaster was sent to the base, which specified the exact location. Another helicopter was then flown in to begin evacuations, while yet another helicopter delivered food aid to unreachable victims.

“The rain has made the [training] conditions more realistic and impressive,” Yudhoyono said.

Yudhoyono said the team would have two main bases, at Halim airport in Jakarta and at Abdul Rahman Saleh airport in Malang.