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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 January, 2005, 17:09 GMT
Aceh victims' patience 'drying up'
By Andrew North
BBC News, Meulaboh, Aceh, Indonesia

Green lawns and covered wooden walkways between white, low-slung buildings greet you when you arrive at Meulaboh College.

Homeless people in Meulaboh college grounds
Meulaboh refugees are growing impatient with the local relief effort
As the town's largest educational institution, it looks like an attractive place in normal times. Not any more.

Lines of washing are now strung across those walkways. Classrooms are filled with families, many still grieving for lost relatives.

The green lawns are awash with rubbish and in many places human excrement.

Meulaboh College is now the main shelter for those made homeless by the Tsunami disaster.

About 50,000 lost their homes in this region, according to local Indonesian relief workers - although that is only an estimate.

Many have been taken in by friends and relatives, or by others whose homes survived the vicious surge of water that engulfed Meulaboh.

But there are thought to be at least 5,000 in overcrowded temporary shelters like the college.

Conditions getting worse

Nearer the centre, the town hall complex has also been given over to these tsunami refugees.

At Meulaboh College, patience is starting to drain away.

It is hardly surprising if one of the worst disasters ever in this part of Indonesia is stretching the capacity of local authorities and relief workers.

But 11 days since the tsunami flattened much of this region, people here say conditions are getting worse.

Tsunami victims seek refuge in Meulaboh college

"Look at this," says Hapri Ani, wrinkling her nose as she shows me the inside of one of only two toilets available for this camp.

It is an indescribable sight. Some water supplies are being delivered, but people say it is not enough.

I saw several people drinking from pools of water left by recent heavy rainfall - the same pools of water that groups of women were using for cooking and washing.

And nearby children play oblivious to the piles of food waste and other garbage.

There is no way of knowing yet if disease is spreading here. But it must be a real risk.

Several people I met claimed to be suffering severe diarrhoea - agonised expressions as they pointed to their stomachs.

Military presence

Although some locally-based relief teams are coming to the college, there is no sign of coordination from the regional authorities.

Officials say that is partly because many government workers died in the disaster.

But there is still a feeling that state institutions have not performed well.

Meulaboh, Aceh, Indonesia
Whole communities have been wiped out

One of the tsunami refugees - who does not want to give his name - points in the direction of a nearby Indonesian army base, which he claims has lots of space and plentiful water.

He does not say any more. The town has a heavy military presence because of the ongoing struggle against Muslim separatists.

But some say these units have continued to focus too much on security, rather than lending their muscle and equipment to the relief effort.

Apart from two Red Cross teams and a small presence of Singaporean troops, there is still relatively little outside help reaching this region.


People hear about all the aid reaching Banda Aceh, but they wonder where it is being taken.

What is keeping things going is the generosity of local people.

People like Issa, who had just arrived at the college camp with a bundle of clean clothes to hand out.

"I'm very upset to see all these people living like this," he says.

Woman in Meulaboh, Aceh, Indonesia
Some have lost everything

It is not just the plight of people in the Meulaboh region that are a concern though, but others further down the western coast.

The International Federation of the Red Cross says it is now prioritising this whole region.

But still little is known about what happened to more remote communities, because even fewer outsiders have been there.


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