Sat, 31 May 2003

PMI ready to channel aid from NGOs

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) is bracing for an increased workload as humanitarian assistance from international non- governmental organizations (NGOs) continues to pour into Aceh.

Following the government's decision not to give access to foreign NGOs to the war-torn province, PMI is the only local private institution through which they can deliver their aid.

"However, considering our principles of independence, neutrality and impartiality we do not have any intention to coordinate with foreign organizations," PMI said in a statement on Thursday.

PMI, it said, would distribute the assistance based on its own judgment and assessment of what people in the province needed.

A PMI official said that the decision was taken due to the organization's limited capacity to conduct such activities.

"There are no ulterior reasons, it is simply because we do not have the capacity to coordinate this and it is actually the job of the government," the official, who refused to be named, said.

Government has refused access to the international community to directly deliver humanitarian relief to Aceh, saying it cannot guarantee the safety of foreign workers in the war zone. The government also worries about "hidden motives" behind the foreigners' humanitarian mission, fearing Aceh could become an international issue.

Jakarta has maintained that all foreign assistance should be channeled through the government, Aceh administration or PMI, which has 18 offices across Aceh and hundreds of volunteers.

PMI has so far provided medicine, hygiene kits and other medical necessities for people in the province. It is being supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

PMI has also distributed 10,000 tons of rice from the World Food Programme (WFP) to the province.

It complained on Thursday about the dwindling supply of blood needed to cope with the demand for between 20 packs and 30 packs daily.

"We may not have sufficient supplies of blood for the increasing number of victims as the conflict escalates," PMI Aceh spokesman Riya Ison said as quoted by Antara.

PMI called on local people to donate blood to help ease the problem.

Meanwhile, aid continued to flow into the province as the war entered its second week.

On Wednesday, the Indonesian Air Force sent two Hercules aircraft to the province, carrying 3.2 tons of medical supplies from the health ministry and Indonesian Military (TNI) headquarters.

The planes also carried two ambulances and military vehicles to support the humanitarian operation.

Late on Tuesday, three tons of medical supplies from the World Health Organization and United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) along with their international workers arrived in Aceh. Another 17 tons of emergency supplies are expected within days.

Waiting for the additional supplies to be flown in, Aceh's deputy governor Azwar Abubakar said he had no objection to the presence of Unicef and WHO foreign officials with him at the airport in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.

"How can we not be happy with people who empathize with us?" Azwar said as quoted by Reuters.

The chief of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Jakarta, Michael Elmquist, said UN agencies and international NGOs had agreed to remain in Banda Aceh and not travel outside the city for security reasons.

Meanwhile the Indonesian Pharmaceutical Entrepreneurs Association pledged to send medicine and other medical supplies to Aceh.

"We will support the humanitarian operation and will immediately arrange our medical aid package," the association deputy chairman Kendra Riadi told Antara on Thursday.