Palu struggling to recover


Still lots to be done: A motorist riding past ruins of buildings destroyed by the earthquake while (below) two women are chatting among tents at a temporary shelter in Palu. — AP

Still lots to be done: A motorist riding past ruins of buildings destroyed by the earthquake while (below) two women are chatting among tents at a temporary shelter in Palu. — AP

PALU: Six months after Palu was ripped apart by an earthquake, tsunami and liquefying soil that sucked neighbourhoods into the earth and killed thousands, a second crisis is looming as recovery efforts stumble and a city that feels ignored begs for humanitarian assistance.Thousands of people in this city on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island are still living in sweltering tent cities, while construction of new permanent homes has yet to start and almost a third of temporary housing is unoccupied after aid groups and authorities failed to connect the units to essential utilities.

President Joko Widodo, who is seeking a second term in elections this week, and his deputy promised that financial assistance to those whose homes were destroyed or whose loved ones were killed would be rapidly distributed. But not a cent has been paid out.

“It’s like we’re forgotten,” said Ade Zahra, a mother of eight living in a tent city who says it’s a miracle her family survived when the quake turned their village to mud and engulfed their home.

“We’ve received no more assistance in the past two months, not only the government but also humanitarian groups and volunteers,” she said.

The city’s struggle to recover highlights a broader problem of neglect often suffered by remote regions in Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago home to hundreds of ethnic groups.

Far from the centre of economic, political and cultural power in populous Java, the region around Palu has a history of sectarian conflict and perceived indifference to its plight could embolden hardliners.

City officials, meanwhile, are worried frustration among the displaced has reached a breaking point.

As anger among the refugees simmers, Joko is focused on securing his re-election. Sulawesi mostly voted for Joko in 2014, but he risks losing ground there this time.

The Sept 28 earthquake spawned a large localised tsunami that wiped out coastal areas, while liquefaction caused by the shaking turned entire neighbourhoods into rivers of sludge.

The disaster killed more than 4,400 people, making it the world’s deadliest seismic event in 2018.

The central government, at the time still grappling with the aftermath of deadly earthquakes on Lombok Island, appealed for international aid but didn’t declare a national disaster, which would’ve opened the door wider to foreign assistance.

It prohibited international aid organisations from operating on the ground.

Though the tragedy is fading from the national consciousness, large parts of Palu look like they were struck only yesterday, a daily reminder to residents of the horrors they lived through. — AP