Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Even wild geese have their own nests, says squatter victim of N.Jakarta fire

City News - January 15, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The city administration and community leaders are fighting over who should distribute aid to the victims of a fire that destroyed hundreds of squatter houses in Muara Angke, North Jakarta, the residents say.

As of Sunday, distribution of aid to the victims, who are mostly fisherfolk, was still slow despite the presence of disaster relief posts erected by political parties and religious organizations in the area.

Community leader Safei said residents had received some food, clothes, medicine and tents to live in from private companies, religious organizations and individual donors.

The local Red Cross had distributed 500 packet meals every meal time since Saturday, he said.

"We immediately distributed the aid given directly to us but most of the early aid (we received) is still being guarded by the local administration," he told The Jakarta Post.

The Post observed Sunday that boxes of food were being stored in a nearby warehouse and guarded by police.

A resident who preferred to remain anonymous said there was a dispute between administration officials and community leaders over who should distribute the aid.

"Before, they never even acknowledged us as a legal community, now that there has been a disaster, they think they have the right to organize the distribution of aid to us. We don't need them. What we need is help," he said.

Safei's deputy, Sujono, said many people claiming to represent government institutions had visited the fire victims "to ask what we need but so far they have not returned".

"Some political parties have even put up banners here, but none of them have ever done anything to help," he added.

Safei and Sujono said 999 people from 349 families were affected by the fire. They are sheltering in 42 tents.

"The authority says we are illegal residents, and we never knew the exact number of people living here. We know that many people have gone to their relatives' houses or hometowns after the fire," Safei said.

Some residents said the administration had issued them with identity cards bearing the addresses of official subdistricts nearby.

A fire in the area broke out at about 12 a.m. on Saturday, but the ruins were still smoldering at 2 p.m a day later.

Firefighters suspected the blaze was caused by an explosion from a broken kerosene stove, while some residents believed it was caused by an electrical short circuit.

"We will never know what actually happened, because most of us were sleeping at the time. We were only aware of the fire when two houses had caught fire," a resident, Umayah, said.

Her family only had enough time to grab some clothes, she said.

The community's fishermen work for several boat owners who pay them Rp 12,000 (US$1.30) a day in addition to the money they get from fish sales.

On good days, fishermen can bring home up to Rp 50,000 a day, a member of the community, Wawan, said.

Most of the families had been living in the area since the 1980s.

"We make a living from the sea and hope the government does not evict us from here ... Even wild geese have their own nests," Umayah said .(02)

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