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Looking after volcano evacuees in Indonesia

Indonesia has over 400 volcanoes, nearly half of which are listed as ‘active’ or ‘dangerous’.  Mount Sinabung, in the Karo region of North Sumatra, had been dormant for four centries, but erupted on Sunday, sending a plum of smoke and ash up to 2 km into the air. Nearly 30,000 people from villages in a 6km radius around Mount Sinabung have been evacuated by the Indonesian authorities and sent to camps and government shelters.

Most evacuees are waiting for an assessment report issued by the government as to whether the mountain is safe enough to return home. But some have already returned to their villages, anxious to oversee their fields of cabbages and chillis. Some farmers are worried their crops will fail because of the ash.

Many of the returnees have been provided with face masks to protect them from the ash and smoke in the atmosphere. But World Vision aid workers active in the area are concerned that further masks will be needed, as well as more blankets and sleeping mats. The weather conditions are harsh since the volcano’s eruption. And in the 19 camps and settlements set up for the evacuees, many families are having to sleep on cold and dirty floors. Some people are reported to have respiratory problems and to be in poor health.

Central and local government officials are active in the affected area and certainly Indonesia’s record in providing assistance following disasters is effective compared to other countries. Following the tsunami which devastated the regions of Aceh and Nias, billions of dollars in relief money were sent to Indonesia. The government set up a special unit to monitor how the money was being spent and imposed strict costing controls and standards on reconstruction projects. The tsunami claimed around 170,000 lives and decimated an estimated 285,000 homes. But visitors to the affected regions now report there is little physical evidence left of the destruction, because replacing buildings and infrastructure were made a priority by the Indonesian government.

As a regional example of a growing and successful democracy, Indonesia now belongs to the G20 group of nations. And with a new trading agreement to be signed with America, the country is eagerly awaiting a visit from Barack Obama, due to take place in November. Indonesians will be hoping that the US President sees many changes in their country since the days of his childhood in Jakarta.

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