Sat, 05 Apr 2003

Victims of Flores floods lack potable water: Regent

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara

Thousands of families in Flores and Belu, East Nusa Tenggara, are facing difficulties obtaining clean water and are threatened by numerous diseases since tap water networks and wells in the regencies have been damaged or contaminated by flooding resulting from torrential rain on Monday.

The flooding has claimed at least 52 lives, according to the latest count.

Paulinus Domi, regent of Sikka, the worst-hit area, confirmed on Friday that most people in the regency and other parts of Flores Island have been forced to drink untreated water from streams as the floods and landslides triggered by the torrential rain have damaged tap water networks managed by local administration-run water utilities.

"Wells belonging to people living in rural and urban areas have been contaminated by the floods and landslides," he told The Jakarta Post by telephone on Friday.

Paulinus said the local administration was collaborating with the local tap water utility to supply 100 pipes, and technicians from Kupang were being sent to repair the damaged water networks, but this would require a considerable period of time.

"Many people are really suffering as they have lost their homes and they are threatened, especially the children, by various diseases, such as diarrhea, respiratory problems and skin diseases, as they have no access to clean water," he said.

He remarked that the situation could get worse unless the people received humanitarian and technical aid from outside the island. He pointed out that the local administration was still facing difficulties in supplying relief as continuing bad weather was still threatening sea and air links to the island.

Around 1,000 families in Maumere regency are also reportedly lacking clean water because both the piped water and electricity networks have been paralyzed by the recent disaster.

Meanwhile, the death toll increased to 52 from 50 previously as rescuers discovered two more bodies on Friday. They are still searching for 12 people who went missing in the disaster.

The local coordinating body handling the natural disaster in Kupang, the capital of East Nusa Tenggara, has channeled financial and humanitarian aid from the central government to the disaster victims both on Flores and in Belu regency bordering with East Timor.

Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Yusuf Kalla delivered Rp 500 million in assistance to disaster victims in Manggarai, Sikka and East Flores regencies.

Stanis Tefa, chairman of the local coordinating board handling the natural disasters, said that in addition the central government had provided three rubber dinghies and five tons of rice for Flores while the National Police had deployed two helicopters to help rescue workers search for victims.

He said the local health office had also distributed 100,000 antibiotic capsules and other medicines to help victims suffering from diarrhea and skin diseases.

Maxi Wangge, a resident of Ende, was in tears over the natural disasters that regularly inflicted such economic hardship to locals.

"Living on an island with unfavorable topography is a matter of choice, and it is a religious experience that has enriched our own personal relationship with God," he said.

He admitted he was close to despair as he had lost his wife and their baby son when a landslide hit their home. "But this incident only makes me more aware of the consequences of living on a disaster-prone island," he said.

Flores was jolted by a strong earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale in 1992, which claimed more than 2,000 lives and damaged thousands of homes.

Maxi said the torrential rains had also damaged many sections of the road network, washed away bridges and destroyed thousands of hectares of rice fields in Sikka regency.