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Indonesia orders foreign aid workers helping with tsunami effort to leave
The Guardian - October 9, 2018
Foreign agencies flew in after a devastating earthquake on 28 September, which triggered a tsunami. The official death toll from the disaster is 1,944, about 5,000 people remain missing, presumed dead.
Indonesia's national disaster management authority (BNBP) issued regulations for international NGOs, including that: "Foreign NGOs who have deployed foreign personnel are advised to retrieve their personnel immediately."
The announcement has prompted concerns that the ability of NGOs to deliver aid will be hampered.
Tim Costello, the chief advocate for charity World Vision, called the announcement by the government "very odd" and said it meant that overworked and traumatised Indonesia staff and volunteers were not able to be supported and relieved by fresh foreign staff.
"Foreign journalists are free to walk around and report, but humanitarian workers who are foreign and are bringing both the experience and the relief to our staff who lived through the tsunami [are not]," he told the ABC. "They're demoralised, they're knocked about, so this is what's very strange."
Indonesian authorities were criticised for how long it took them to get search and rescue equipment and aid to Palu and other areas affected by the natural disaster.
In the aftermath of the disaster, the city of Palu went days without power and clean water, leading to reports of looting, long queues for fuel and desperate scenes at the city's airport. Countries including Australia, New Zealand and the UK pledged aid.
The regulations issued by the Indonesian government are directed toward international NGOs. Large organisations such as World Vision, which are registered as local NGOs in Indonesia, are allowed to remain.
Jen Clancy at the Australian Council for International Development (Acfid), Australia's peak body for aid NGOs, said only a small number of international staff were being allowed on the ground to provide technical assistance.
Acfid members on the ground in Indonesia told Clancy the restrictions on the number of foreign aid workers was not hampering the response, however they did note concerns about fatigue and exhaustion of local staff.
A senior international NGO worker currently in Indonesia advising on the disaster told the Guardian that Indonesia's preference for local NGOs over foreign ones was "normal".
"In Australia we don't have Indonesian NGOs there, so why would they have [Australian NGOs]? There are security issues, tax issues, it doesn't make sense for a country with enough money to have international NGOs instead of nationalised ones," the worker said.
The worker said that while there were some roles requiring specialist technical skills, these can generally be performed from headquarters and last only for a few weeks, whereas for the bulk of roles, it made sense to hire locally.
Clancy said international NGOs had to walk a careful line of not acting paternalistically and taking over aid operations. "There's pushback against the international community who come flooding in days or weeks later, taking over the response. It's about taking back that power and saying local organisations have significant capacity."
The Indonesian government, the Indonesian Red Cross and other Indonesian NGOs all have "significant capacity" for providing humanitarian assistance, said Clancy. "Natural disasters aren't a new phenomenon for Indonesia, unfortunately... They are well experienced in responding to natural disasters."