Thu, 18 Sep 2003

Red Cross seeks greater public involvement

Sari P. Setiogi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) marked its 58th anniversary on Wednesday with a call for greater public participation in providing first aid as a lifesaver to disaster victims.

"Rather than rely on Red Cross or hospital emergency teams, the whole community should know what to do when disaster strikes or an accident occurs, especially when their family members or friends are victims," PMI chairman Mar'ie Muhammad told The Jakarta Post here on Wednesday.

PMI is now developing a community-based, first aid program to disseminate first aid knowledge and skills among community members. According to Mar'ie, the program is crucial, considering the high incidence of disasters in the country, including flooding, landslides and bombings.

"The program also includes sanitation projects to provide clean water and promote eradication of communal diseases," said Mar'ie.

He noted that Indonesians lacked safety awareness. Citing an example, he pointed out that a helicopter flew over the JW Marriott Hotel shortly after a bomb had exploded in its driveway in front of the hotel lobby.

"I thought it was a police helicopter on an evacuation mission. Later I found out it was carrying a TV cameraman shooting scenes of the blast. I can understand that, for TV journalists, taking exclusive footage is important, but the high- speed rotors of the helicopter could have caused more windows to break, especially those already half-shattered by the blast."

"That could have endangered emergency workers, police officers, even victims on the ground. Broken glass might have showered them at any time," he said.

Mar'ie also conceded that PMI, which is as old as the nation, needed to improve the quality of its human resources and equipment.

"Effective first aid should be on time and provide the right treatment. Basically, team members are highly motivated, as has been demonstrated on several occasions. But in order for us to provide a good service, team members should be trained regularly to keep up with developments in first aid know-how," he said.

He also lamented PMI's lack of equipment due to limited funds.

"When Bali was rocked by the bomb blasts, we had to 'import' body bags from Aceh as Bali did not have enough of them," he said by way of an example.

The first ambulance arrived at the scene as late as 42 minutes after the blasts.

However, even at its Jakarta headquarters, PMI lacks the first aid equipment necessary. It received its first fireproof suits only after 58 years of existence when an international institution donated the suits on the occasion of its anniversary.

"Fireproof suits, helmets and masks are very important for a first aid crew's safety. They could also help victims, let's say, those trapped in a fire, and would likely save more lives," he said.

Mar'ie also called for more corporate and individual sponsors to get involved and make donations to PMI.

"We don't have a sustainable income, so we rely a lot on donations."

PMI receives a Rp 560 million (US$65,882) annual subsidy from the Office of the State Secretary. Routine expenditure at its headquarters office in Jakarta alone, Mar'ie said, used up about Rp 300 million every year.

Currently, PMI has regional offices in 30 provinces, with 342 branches at a district level.