Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022

Medan, Indonesia The new year started wet on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia after torrential rains displaced more than 30,000 people and left two children dead, according to the country’s disaster mitigation agency.

Heavy rains hit parts of the western island, including Jambi and Aceh provinces, for days, raising fears that the floods would hurt the local economy and lead to an increase in COVID-19 cases.

Muhammad Hatta says his village on the outskirts of the town of Lhoksukon in Aceh province has been under water since the beginning of the year, and there is little sign of respite.

Hatta, his wife and three sons managed to stop the floodwaters from entering their home by shutting down their kitchen on the lower floor.

But while they have decided to stay, they fear that the worst may be ahead.

“We are more concerned about what happens after the floodwaters subside,” Hatta told Al Jazeera.

“All the rice fields in the area are under water. The farmers were just about to harvest them, but crops usually die after being completely under water for three or four days. The farmers will have lost everything. ”

Aerial footage filmed by Hatta and seen by Al Jazeera showed impassable streets in and around his village, and houses immersed in milky brown water.

In addition to the devastated rice crop, Hatta says day laborers in the area were also unable to work due to the floods.

“The local economy has been destroyed,” he said.

The milky brown water rose to the roofs of buildings around the Aceh town of Lhoksukon Floodwaters have been rising since the beginning of the year in Lhoksukon and surrounding towns in Aceh province, Indonesia [Supplied/Hamdani]

Parts of neighboring Malaysia were also flooded after heavy rains hit the country, forcing thousands into temporary shelters. More than 50 people have died as a result of the floods across the country, which have particularly affected the states of Selangor, Johor and Melaka, across the Strait of Malacca from Sumatra.

Emergency announced

Hatta says the floods occur annually in the area and that the government had to stop it from happening again by removing sediment from the surrounding rivers – making them deeper so that they no longer burst their banks after heavy rains.

Hamdani, the head of public relations at the North Aceh Regional Secretariat, told Al Jazeera that 32,854 people in 16 districts in northern Aceh had been displaced after heavy rains carried swells of water downstream.

“Local residents take refuge with family members, in mosques and prayer halls and in specially built emergency shelters,” he said.

North Aceh regent Muhammad Thaib on Sunday declared an official state of emergency in the regency due to the floods.

“We are working on logistics such as making sure the displaced have enough food. “For a few days it is okay for people to eat instant noodles, but after that we have to keep them healthy and feed them nutritious foods such as tempeh, mung beans, cereals and maize,” Hamdani said.

“We also need blankets for the children and babies as well as milk.”

Hamdani acknowledged that the floods were almost an annual event and said the regional government hoped the construction of the Keureuto Dam, which is expected to be completed in 2023, would alleviate the problem. The dam will hold water from the Krueng Keureuto River and six of its tributaries.

Meanwhile, the flood comes at a particularly inconvenient moment.

“COVID-19 numbers in North Aceh have been declining and I have had fewer patients in recent weeks who have come to see me with severe symptoms,” Lhoksukon-based lung specialist Dr Indra Buana told Al Jazeera.

Children stand in floodwaters in front of a wooden building with a rusty corrugated iron roof in AcehChildren in the floodwaters in the villages around Lhoksukon. There are concerns about the spread of diseases, including COVID-19 [Supplied/Rina Samrani]

Aceh has reported about 38,000 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began and slightly more than 2,000 deaths, though it has registered barely new cases or deaths in recent weeks.

But now the doctor fears that the floods will cause a spate of medical conditions at the same time as the Omicron variant looms on the horizon.

“Floodwaters are very dangerous,” he said. “If people inhale it, they could drown or it could cause severe pneumonia.”

“The wet and cold weather this time of year also usually causes an increase in cases like asthma and upper respiratory tract infections.”

An additional problem also comes from displaced residents fleeing their homes and sharing limited space in shelters or with family members where social distance is difficult.

Aceh has one of the least vaccinated populations in Indonesia with just over 1.2 million inhabitants doubly vaccinated out of a population of more than 5.3 million, according to figures from the Ministry of Health.

“We are concerned that there will be an increase in COVID-19 cases. “It can be very dangerous if someone from outside the area who has COVID-19 visited the shelters and unknowingly infected everyone,” said Dr Buana.

“But at the same time we can not forbid people to bring help. “

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