Kiwi aid workers staying put in disaster zone

7:07 pm on 10 October 2018

New Zealand aid workers have no plans to leave the Sulawesi disaster area despite Indonesia ordering foreign aid groups to pull out.

The death toll from the 7.7-magnitude earthquake and tsunami on the island of Sulawesi has risen to 1,203, the country's disaster management agency said on Sunday.

Red Cross New Zealand confirmed its staff will not be affected by the Indonesian orders. Photo: AFP

The country has accepted help from overseas to cope with the devastation caused by the Sulawesi earthquake and tsunami.

But it has since issued an order for groups with staff in the disaster area to leave.

Unicef New Zealand communications director Lachlan Forsyth said the organisation has been given the green light to stay in the region for certain aid work, including sanitation and child protection.

"It certainly seems like the Indonesian government is wanting to ensure they can control which agencies are actually coming in to assist," Mr Forsyth said.

"They're obviously concerned about being overwhelmed and not having resources there to support other agencies ... that are on the ground."

Unicef has a strong Indonesian base with up to 20 workers on the ground in Sulawesi, he said.

"Our work is able to continue there, because we have that team on the ground and they have that pre-existing relationship with the government."

Up to 20 workers on the ground in Sulawesi.

The official death toll from the disaster has passed 2000, and as many as 5000 people are still unaccounted for.

The Council for International Development has stood behind the government's stance, saying Indonesia is following best practice.

The council's NGO Disaster Relief Forum chairperson, Mark Mitchell, said a local response was best for everyone.

"All of our members have local NGOs there and are being supported through their international partnerships," Mr Mitchell said.

"It's best practice, it's the way we usually operate.

"I think the Indonesian government is operating appropriately at this time."

Red Cross New Zealand confirmed its staff will not be affected by the Indonesian orders.

Four New Zealand staff members are in the area to set up telecommunications in Sulawesi.

Red Cross NZ communication manager Ellie van Baaren said the disaster relief efforts were locally led as much as possible.

Foreign aid groups with existing bases in Indonesia should be able to continue to provide support, Ms van Baaren said.

More than 600 Red Cross volunteers are in Sulawesi providing support.

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