Multiple disasters displace thousands in Indonesia

Published: 22 January 2014 10:42 CET

By Kate Roux, IFRC

Natural disasters pose a constant threat to the people of Indonesia. Most recently, seasonal but heavy and prolonged rains along the north coast of the Island of Java have resulted in major flooding in Jakarta. Further west in neighbouring Sumatra, incessant volcanic activity in recent months has displaced over 25,000 people.

Phil Charlesworth, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) representative for Indonesia, said the flooding was extensive but was particularly bad along the waterways that pass through Jakarta. “The eastern and northern neighbourhoods are the worst affected. Although flooding is not something new for the people of Jakarta, the intensity of the rainfall in the surrounding catchments is the key determinant of what happens in the city,” he said. “Currently, the authorities – with the support of Palang Merah Indonesia – are managing the response very well, but despite their best efforts, there have been several casualties.”

Having been dormant for over three years, Mount Sinabung, in the Karo district of North Sumatra, has caused problems since it first began showing signs of new activity last September. Since then it has been spewing immense plumes of ash, lava and volcanic debris, forcing the government to establish an exclusion zone which forced many families into evacuation centres. For some, the stay has lasted for four months.

“The hardest part for many is that there is no discernable end to the volcanic activity,” Charlesworth said. “This means some families do not know when they can return home, and they don’t know what condition their homes and property will be in.”

Since the onset of both disasters, Palang Merah Indonesia – also known as the Indonesian Red Cross – has been involved in the evacuation of affected communities. They are supporting displaced communities through the provision of food, first aid, water and sanitation, and medical relief including psychosocial support. They are also assisting the Iocal authorities in ongoing damage and needs assessments. In Jakarta, the society is supporting the evacuation of more than 50,000 people, and providing aid assistance to displaced families in collaboration with local authorities including the Ministry of Social Welfare, military and the police.