Wed, Jan 12, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Polluted water a growing threat to Aceh victims

REFUGEE CAMP Three quarters of the children at Calang have diarrhea as a lack of basic sanitation has created a breeding ground for waterborne diseases

AP , CALANG, INDONESIA

An Acehnese young boy cries as he is given an h immunization shot at a refugee camp in the outskirts of Banda Aceh yesterday. The lack of clean water across the tsunami-hit region has raised the threat of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, dysentery and hepatitis.

PHOTO: EPA

The trickle of moisture dripping down a rock has become a drinking water supply at this city-turned-refugee camp. It's also the shower. And the trash dump.

Tsunami victims from all around the ruined city of Calang, 110km south of Banda Aceh, have been arriving daily to a growing settlement that local officials say has swelled to some 7,000 survivors.

Refugees are rigging leftover pieces of corrugated metal to branches to create makeshift cabins, sheltering their families on the hillsides ringing this former fishing town where not a single building was left standing after the tsunami hit Dec. 26.

But as the camp grows, one consideration left behind has been sanitation and preserving clean sources of water, meaning conditions such as diarrhea are becoming rampant and raising the threat of other diseases, doctors here say.

US Navy and other helicopters have been running regular flights to Calang to ferry in supplies. Children play in the now-gentle waves alongside two Indonesian navy amphibious ships sitting on the shoreline with aid and a clinic -- one of three now located here. The city's own 10 doctors all died in the tsunami.

Aid supplies in the city itself now aren't the problem, said Sya-frizal, logistics coordinator for the local government, standing next to heaps of donated clothes. It's getting the supplies to isolated areas nearby where helicopters or boats are the only means for carrying cargo -- severely limiting the amount of aid that can be delivered.

"We have some supplies, we have food here," said Syafrizal, who like many Indonesians uses only one name. "But we have problems with how to drop it to other camps."

If the aid won't come to the people, the people will come to the aid.

Sariffuddin Puteh, 32, came from the village of Tenom with nine other neighbors to gather supplies for the some 1,000 people left alive. He said helicopters came every day, but only brought biscuits one day or water and medicine the next -- meaning families are running low on rice.

"We never get rice," he said.

The tsunami victims arrive with only the clothes on their backs -- all they have left -- and are coping with the loss of dozens of neighbors and relatives in the area that suffered the brunt of the tsunami's wrath along the west coast of Indonesia's Sumatra Island.

The last thing on their minds when they make camp on whatever patch of ground is free from debris is keeping the decimated area clean.

Children fill water bottles from a pool of gray water, while the family across the dirt road said they used the same puddle for washing their dishes.

Up the hill at a well marked with a sign reading ``For cooking water only,'' Nilawati, 22, who is nine months pregnant, said she was filling a bucket for her 3-year-old son to drink -- not aware that bottled water was available just down the road.

Already, three quarters of the children at Calang have diarrhea, said Dr. Rick Brennan of US-based aid group International Rescue Committee (IRC), who was in the area for an aid assessment on Monday. All the water sources in Calang are contaminated and survivors haven't set up any latrines to make sure what's left isn't polluted further.

The lack of clean water raises the threat of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, dysentery and hepatitis, Brennan said.

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