Thu, 11 Dec 2003

UPC seeks soft loans for Kapuk Muara fire victims

Evi Mariani, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Urban Poor Consortium (UPC) chairwoman Wardah Hafidz pushed the city administration on Wednesday to channel soft loans to hundreds of homeless families whose houses in Kapuk Muara, North Jakarta, were burned down in a fire on Sunday.

"The city should give the residents the loans to enable them to rebuild their houses as soon as possible.

"Last year, UPC channeled loans for hundreds of fire victims in Muara Baru, North Jakarta," she told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday. "We did that because we saw the victims were still homeless months after the fire."

She said that UPC assisted in organizing the residents to pay back the loans, collecting as much money as they could spare each day. "So far there's no bad debt. The loans are almost fully paid now."

The fire, which gutted about 250 houses in the neighborhood, started early on Sunday morning. No casualties were reported, but the residents -- who are mostly small-scale vendors -- also lost their stock and equipment in the fire.

Lack of money and resources to build new houses are the major problems faced by the fire victims.

Some victims have rented rooms close to the scene of the fire for about Rp 150,000 to Rp 200,000 a month; some are staying at relatives houses; others sleep in the mosque or outside, protected from the elements by makeshift tents.

"I would certainly need three to five months to collect enough money to build a semi-permanent house," said Alfian, one of the fire victims.

A 24-square meter semi-permanent house, the residents said, would cost Rp 4 million (US$470).

For the moment, the residents have enough food and clothes as both the Indonesian Red Cross and the North Jakarta Social Agency have handed them donations.

North Jakarta Social Agency official, Benny Martha, told the Post a public kitchen will be established, although it will only operate for four days.

"According to the city bylaw, we have to immediately distribute relief packages, operate a public kitchen and erect temporary shelters," he said.