UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

Flash flooding and landslides bury Indonesian towns and displace 400,000

UNICEF Image
© AP Photo
Houses are submerged in the aftermath of the flooding in Aceh Province, Indonesia.

By Anwulika Okafor

NEW YORK, USA, 27 December 2006 – The floodwaters have slowly begun to recede in the north, east and central Aceh regions and Sumatra, Indonesia, but a humanitarian crisis remains in their wake.

Days of torrential rains overflowed rivers, causing heavy flooding and landslides, and leaving 109 inhabitants dead and 400,000 displaced.

The diminishing floodwaters have revealed homes severely damaged and towns covered in mud. UNICEF and its partners have stepped in to help – providing temporary shelter, food, hygiene kits and other necessities to survivors.

In Langsa District, three camps have been set up to house more than 3,500 displaced people. With most affected areas still inaccessible and communication systems down, relief agencies have been using plane flyovers as a means to both airdrop supplies to stranded families and locate survivors.

UNICEF has also used heavy trucks to get supplies into flood-affected areas.

Residents caught unaware

“The situation is quite desperate,” said UNICEF Emergency Programme Officer Susan Ngongi. “It’s very difficult to reach those most in need. A lot of villages are covered entirely, so it is mostly a helicopter and boat operation.”

In some areas, floodwaters reached as high as two metres, completely disabling local government operations, inundating homes and washing away bridges. Residents caught unaware by the heavy rains were forced to wade through shoulder-high muddy water or paddle boats to dry land.

UNICEF Image
© AP/Bakkara
An Indonesian woman washes clothes as her daughter plays in floodwater in Aceh Tamiang District, Indonesia.

Some were seen standing on rooftops waiting for help to arrive. An estimated 200 people are still reportedly missing.

Concern over disease outbreaks

In Aceh Tamiang District, Sumatra – currently without power or water and experiencing a fuel shortage – 8 of the 10 health centres were damaged by floods, creating the potential for outbreaks of disease with minimal abatement. In Aceh Utara, there have already been cases of diarrhoea reported among infants living in a temporary displacement camp. 

“The main concern right now actually is disease,” said Ms. Ngongi. “Our understanding is that diarrhoea and upper respiratory infection were quite common in the area. With the flooding, it facilitates the spreading of diseases.”
 
UNICEF is working with local and national authorities to help prevent outbreaks in devastated areas – a task with which the staff in Aceh Province has much experience. Aceh was the region most damaged by the 2004 tsunami, but this week’s flooding was in areas unaffected by that disaster.

UNICEF has also sent child protection staff to visit affected areas and asses the needs of children – specifically those who may have been abandoned, orphaned or placed at risk of abuse, as well as young survivors in need of psycho-social support.


 

 

Video

27 December 2006:
UNICEF Emergency Programme Officer Susan Ngongi talks about the latest situation and relief efforts in flood-stricken areas of Indonesia.
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