Disease threat in Jakarta floods

Authorities fear outbreak of water-borne diseases could increase death toll.

    Hundreds of thousands of city residents have
    been displaced by the floods [Reuters]
    Medical teams have been sent out across the city, many travelling by raft, to treat people for diarrhoea, skin diseases, respiratory problems and symptoms of exposure after they had spent days in damp, dirty clothes.

    At least 44 people have died in the flooding,
    most through drowning or electrocution [EPA]

    "We have to be alert for diseases like typhoid, those transmitted by rats and respiratory infections. Hopefully, there will be no dysentery," Siti Fadilah Supari, the Indonesian health minister, said.
    "We know it's hard for the residents [to keep clean] under the circumstances, but they have to."
    Meyritha Maryanie, public relations manager for PAM Lyonnaise Jaya, the capital's water provider, said more than 80 per cent of the company's subscribers had no access to clean water as of Sunday.
    "We don't know when we will be able to resume supplying clean water as we solely depend on nature. If the water recedes, we can fix the facilities and resume operations," the Jakarta Post quoted her as saying.
    "But we are prioritising hospitals - because this is a time of emergency - and also refugee shelters."

    Estimated population of 12 million


    Much of old city built on swamp land


    Some areas below sea level


    City criss-crossed by rivers and canals, many clogged with rubbish and sewage

    The flood conditions are also ideal breeding grounds for diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, and the country's leading official on tackling the bird flu virus has said that the disease could also spread through contaminated water.
    The H5N1 bird flu virus has killed more humans in Indonesia than anywhere else.
    Although flooding in Jakarta is not unusual, residents say the floods are the worst in decades.
    Many of Jakarta's residents are furious with the government for not doing more to protect them from the flooding.
    Tigor Nainggolan, a lawyer and member of the Jakarta Residents Forum, sued the governor of Jakarta for the last major flood five years ago. He is planning to do that again.
    Nainggolan told Al Jazeera: "We are going to sue the governor of Jakarta because he has failed again to protect the people from the floods."
    Many blame the governor for not protecting "green areas" in Jakarta that used to absorb the water. Many of Jakarta's green areas have been developed, often making way for construction projects such as shopping malls.
    But Sutiyoso, who was re-elected as Jakarta's governor for a second term in 2003, says that with the population of Jakarta growing at such a rate, there was no other choice.
    He said: "I hope that people who are intelligent understand that I cannot solve this problem alone. Many people will have to be involved. The central government, the neighbouring cities, we all have to work together, if not these floods will continue to happen."
    Environmentalists have blamed the flooding on storm drains and rivers clogged with rubbish, poor urban planning and the deforestation of hills to the south of the city which used to soak up much of the seasonal rainfall.
    Businesses, meanwhile, have begun trying to assess the economic impact of the floods, which have caused power blackouts, cut telecommunications and made many key roads impassable.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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