Floods in Sumatra, Indonesia, displaced more than 30,000 people | Flood News

Medan, Indonesia – According to the Indonesian Disaster Mitigation Agency, the New Year began on the Indonesian island of Sumatra after heavy rains displaced more than 30,000 people and killed two children.

In the past few days, heavy rain has hit parts of the western islands, including Jambi and Aceh provinces, causing fears that the flood will damage the local economy and cause a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Muhammad Hatta said that his village on the outskirts of Lhoksukon town in Aceh province has been underwater since the beginning of the year and there is little sign of respite.

Hada, his wife and three sons tried to prevent flooding from entering their home by blocking the kitchen downstairs.

However, although they decide to stay where they are, they worry that the worst may come.

“We are more worried about what will happen when the flood subsides,” Hatta told Al Jazeera.

“All the rice fields in the area are underwater. The farmers are about to harvest them, but the crops usually die after three or four days of being completely submerged. The farmers will lose everything.”

The aerial footage taken by Hatta and seen by Al Jazeera showed that the streets inside and outside his village were impassable and the houses were submerged in milky white water.

Hatta said that in addition to the destruction of rice crops, temporary workers in the area were also unable to work due to flooding.

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

Milky white water rises to the roofs of buildings around Lhoksukon in Aceh Since the beginning of this year, flooding in Lhoksukon and surrounding villages in Aceh Province, Indonesia has increased [Supplied/Hamdani]

After heavy rains hit the country, parts of neighboring Malaysia were also flooded, forcing thousands of people into temporary shelters. Floods across the country have caused more than 50 deaths. These floods have particularly affected the states of Selangor, Johor and Malacca on the other side of the Straits of Sumatra and Malacca.

Declare a state of emergency

Hatta said that the area is flooded every year, and the government needs to prevent this from happening again by removing sediment from the surrounding rivers-making them deeper so that they don’t break through the banks after heavy rains.

Hamdani, the head of public relations at the North Aceh Regional Secretariat, told Al Jazeera that the heavy rain caused a surge in downstream water flow and 32,854 people were displaced in 16 districts in North Aceh.

He said: “Local residents have been taking refuge with relatives, mosques and prayer halls, and specially constructed emergency shelters.”

On Sunday, due to flooding, North Aceh Regent Mohamed Taib declared a state of emergency in the area.

“We are working hard to ensure that the displaced have enough food and other logistical support. People can eat instant noodles within a few days, but then we need to keep them healthy and provide them with nutritious food such as tempeh, mung beans, grains and corn,” Hamdani said.

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

Hamdani acknowledged that the flooding is almost an annual event and said that the regional government hopes that the construction of the Keureuto Dam, which is scheduled to be completed in 2023, will alleviate this problem. The dam will contain water from the Krueng Keureuto River and its six tributaries.

At the same time, the flood came particularly untimely.

“The number of COVID-19 in North Aceh has been declining, and the number of severely symptomatic patients who came to see me has decreased in recent weeks,” Dr. Indra Buana, a pulmonary specialist in Lok Sukon, told Al Jazeera.

Children stand in the flood in front of a wooden building with a rusty corrugated roof in AcehChildren in the flood in the surrounding villages of Lhoksukon. People are worried about the spread of diseases, including COVID-19 [Supplied/Rina Sarina]

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Aceh has reported approximately 38,000 COVID-19 cases and the death toll is slightly more than 2,000, although hardly any new cases or deaths have been recorded in recent weeks.

But now, doctors worry that the flood will cause a series of medical conditions at the same time that the Omicron variant is about to appear.

“The flood is very dangerous,” he said. “If people inhale it, they may drown or cause severe lung inflammation.”

“Damp and cold weather at this time of the year usually also leads to an increase in cases of asthma and upper respiratory tract infections.”

Another problem also comes from displaced residents fleeing their homes, in shelters or sharing limited space with family members who have difficulty maintaining social distance.

According to data from the Ministry of Health, Aceh is one of the least vaccinated populations in Indonesia. Among the population of more than 5.3 million, only more than 1.2 million residents have received double vaccinations.

“We are concerned about a surge in COVID-19 cases. If people from outside the area who are infected with COVID-19 visit the shelter and unknowingly infect everyone, it could be very dangerous,” said Dr Buana.

“But at the same time, we cannot prohibit people from bringing aid.”