Thu, 18 Sep 2003

Karet Tengsin fire victims need baby food, medicines

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak and Zakki Hakim, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Fire victims in Karet Tengsin subdistrict, Central Jakarta, are in desperate need of food, particularly baby food, for about 100 infants and toddlers.

Mothers had to give plain porridge and instant noodles to children less than five years old.

"Besides baby food and clothing, the residents are also in need of over-the-counter medicines to deal with flu, mosquito bites and rashes," Mujahidin Ali, who heads the crisis center for the fire victims, told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

Fire destroyed hundreds of houses on Monday, leaving 702 people homeless. They have been forced to take shelter at the hall, aisles and basement of a mosque at the Karet Tengsin low- cost apartments, adjacent to their former homes. Many of them are staying at their partially destroyed houses, now covered with plastic sheeting.

"If all residents agree, we shall rebuild our homes. Besides, we don't have enough money to find new places to live," said Sarjono, a meatball vendor who has lived in the area since 1986, while sitting on a plastic mat -- his only possession.

Although four additional aid centers were established by three political parties and a non-governmental organization to distribute aid from donors, residents claim they have not received any of the donations.

Taxi driver Nardi, amid the rubble, claimed that he was asked to wait until "distribution time" before he could obtain a cup of bottled water.

"It seemed to me that they prioritized only people they recognized," he said.

It was the second fire in the area since 1993, when many of the residents were later given the right to rent rooms in the adjacent apartments.

According to Nardi, victims in the latest fire are those who were given promises to occupy the apartments but had still not received any official documentation.

In another area of Karet Tengsin subdistrict, which was razed by fire on Aug. 23, residents have been rebuilding their homes, despite Governor Sutiyoso's advice not to reoccupy the land.

The fire in that area, also known as Kebon Sayur, left 1,318 people homeless.

A resident, Nafsiah, 51, told the Post that she and her husband could no longer stand living in the shelters.

"The weather is killing me; I cannot stand the wind at night. What's more, it has started to rain. I will certainly get sick," she said, adding that only she and her husband Sugiman, 53, one of the neighborhood chiefs, had done any rebuilding work.

Nafsiah said that the work would take one month and require at least Rp 10 million (US$1,176) in cash to rebuild a two-story house on a 60-square-meter plot, but there was no financial assistance available.

She knew that the governor had called on the residents not to rebuild their homes because the administration planned to build low-cost apartments there instead.

"How long can we stay homeless? We might agree with the administration's plan if the land clearance process were both fair and transparent," she said.

"We're just ordinary folk; we would eventually follow what the administration told us to do, but we're trying to avoid losing everything and ending up with nothing."