Sat, 21 Feb 2004

Floods hit densely populated Java

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Floods continued to sweep through densely populated areas of Java on Friday, with the worst-hit of the rice belt regencies in West Java, disrupting public transportation and the supply of basic commodities to the provinces.

Hunger and diseases such as diarrhea, skin irritations and lung infections have begun to hit thousands of people taking refuge from the flooding in makeshift tents. With floodwaters disrupting transportation, it could be some time before relief aid can reach these people.

Many evacuees in Indramayu slammed the government for not doing enough to help them.

"What is the government doing? No officials from the local administration or the central government have come to check on our situation? Are they busy with the upcoming general election?

"We are in dire need of food, tents, blankets, medicine. Many people are running short on food after evacuating their houses two weeks ago, and many others, especially children, are suffering diarrhea, skin irritations and lung infections because of a shortage of clean water," Andad, 52, a resident of Karanganyar village in Kandanghaur subdistrict, told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

Most of the evacuees have set up their tents along the North Coast Highway and are stopping passing motorists to beg for the money that will allow them to buy food for their families.

"The floods have given us an unexpected blessing. I can earn Rp 60,000 (US$7) a day, enough money to cover my family's needs for two days," said Tarminem, a 42-year-old mother of two.

Floodwaters in Indramayu are between 30 centimeters and 1.5 meters in depth, submerging thousands of houses, places of worship and schools, which have been forced to close since Monday.

Many people forced to leave their homes in remote areas in Kerawang and Subang have traveled to Cirebon and Jakarta to seek work.

Traffic along the North Coast Highway has been disrupted because several sections of road are under up to a meter of water, slowing the supply of basic commodities from Jakarta to Central and East Java. This situation could worsen if the rain continues over the next several days.

The incessant rain that has fallen on the regencies of Krawang, Indramayu and Subang in West Java since Tuesday has submerged 57,000 hectares of paddy and disrupted transportation networks across the large area.

The head of the West Java agriculture office, Daddy Mulyadi, said the floods, which were worse than last year, could cause harvest failures, threatening the supply of rice to Java, home to almost 60 percent of the country's 230 million people.

"The government has underestimated this year's rainy season and we predict that the impact of the flooding will be very wide," he said, adding that the provincial government was distributing aid to flood victims in the province.

He said the province had lost about 11,000 tons of unhusked rice in the 2003 drought and could suffer similar losses if there were harvest failures over the next two months because of the floods.

Indramayu Regent Irianto said after touring flood-hit villages in the regency that the central government should help local administrations in the province build more dams to prevent droughts during the dry season and floods in the rainy season.

The regent handed out packages of basic commodities, medicines and tents to thousands of evacuees on Friday.

The heavy rains have also affected thousands of villages along the coast in parts of West and East Java. Landslides have claimed at least 27 lives in the Central Java regencies of Banyumas, Kebumen and Cilacap since last December.

Central Java has established emergency medical teams in anticipation of possible disasters triggered by incessant rain in the province this week.

Thousands of residents of Tangerang and Serang in Banten province have been forced out of their homes by flooding, and land transportation between Java and Sumatra has been disturbed with numerous sections of the 120-kilometer Jakarta-Merak toll road under water.