Ethnic Chinese survivors of last week’s earthquake are becoming alarmed about widespread rumors, including some sent by text message, that they are being discriminated against in the distribution of emergency aid.
Whether rumor or fact, word spread across Padang during the weekend that local officials in charge of distributing aid weren’t giving equal attention to Pondok Cina, or Chinatown, where about 80 percent of the homes were destroyed.
Rustam Pakaya, head of the Ministry of Health’s Crisis Center, said his team had been checking areas throughout the city and noted that Chinatown was among the worst-hit.
He said an estimated 21,600 people were in the area when the 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck Padang, the provincial capital of West Sumatra, and the surrounding area. “It’s very bad there,” Rustam said, adding that a search team found 35 bodies in a single house on Friday.
While Rustam couldn’t confirm any examples of discrimination, the claims were a familiar echo of other disasters, including after the 2004 tsunami in Aceh, where ethnic Chinese said they were neglected by aid teams.
Mintarja, head of head of the RW III Kampung Pondok neighborhood, said the area had only received 40 boxes of packaged tea as aid.
“Well, I received this text message suggesting that there has been some discrimination and that we are Chinese, so we can’t get aid,” he said.
“But you know, it’s just a rumor. We have been coordinating very well in the area, so none of us will go hungry. We have a free canteen here and an [aid] post for all of us.”
Priyadi Kardono, a spokesman for the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), denied the rumors. “I don’t think there’s discrimination against Chinese people in Padang. This is a disaster and we know that everyone needs the same help and that we will help them all. It doesn’t matter who they are,” Priyadi said.
Meals were being prepared on Jalan Niaga in an emergency kitchen covered by a tarpaulin.
“Yes, I heard the rumors, but we don’t care. We are cooking here, so people can eat. Please come, Chinese or not Chinese, everyone,” said a woman named Marline as she cooked.
Rita Wuliango, a housewife living nearby, has come to the emergency kitchen every day, sometimes donating money for fuel to run a water pump.
“I also take food from the kitchen — it’s free. If I come late and don’t get any, I move to another [aid] post,” she said. “But this kitchen is great. They don’t care if you are Chinese or not. We are people helping each other.”
– The Jakarta Globe