Killer Rains Hammer Indonesia's Aceh Province

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, January 2, 2006 (ENS) - Two years to the day after the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami washed away hundreds of thousands of people, Indonesia's Aceh province again faces tragedy. At least 90 people are confirmed dead and nearly 200 are missing after heavy rains during the past 10 days triggered severe flash flooding and mudslides across Aceh.

After initial assessments of the devastation, the Indonesian Red Cross, or Palang Merah Indonesia, PMI, says more than 365,000 inhabitants were displaced from their homes along the east coast of Aceh province in northern Sumatra due to the severe weather.

In some areas, the downpours washed away roads and bridges, making access impossible by land. Still, PMI is distributing vital relief supplies to tens of thousands of displaced people.

Aulia, a PMI volunteer, is based in the flood affected village of Kota Kuala Simpang in Aceh Tamiang district.

“Up to three meters of flood water has inundated the village, but fortunately the water is beginning to subside,” said Aulia. “Most people evacuated their houses some days ago and many houses have since been swept away.”

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Villagers at their flooded house in the village of Alur Jambu in the Aceh Tamiyang district. December 26, 2006. (Photo courtesy WFP)
The Aceh Tamiang district government says 203,722 out of the 246,852 total district population have been displaced, thousands of homes have been destroyed, and 59 elementary schools have been damaged.

The most urgent needs of affected communities are for food, tents, medical teams and medicines.

Harun Al Rashid, the International Federation’s Disaster Management delegate in Banda Aceh, says PMI volunteers and staff are working in close cooperation with other humanitarian agencies in an effort to ensure that immediate needs are being met.

The United Nations is responding to the request by the government of Indonesia to coordinate emergency relief to the North, East and Central Aceh regions that have been affected by the floods.

“UN helicopters are dropping supplies in some hard to reach areas, and PMI volunteers are working with communities to ensure that the supplies are quickly distributed,” Al Rashid said.

PMI volunteers have so far distributed more than one and a half metric tons of relief materials that have been dropped by UN helicopters, with further drops planned.

Under an agreement with the World Bank, volunteers will distribute a further five tons of food and medicines over the coming days.

In addition, 12 International Federation of Red Cross trucks have been dispatched from the city of Banda Aceh to the affected region, each of them laden with emergency supplies provided by the UN World Food Programme, WFP.

"This is excellent collaborative work with the local government, the Indonesian military, NGOs and UN agencies, which is having the desired impact on the affected population," said Mohamed Saleheen, WFP representative in Indonesia.

“We are grateful to Norway, Spain and the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund for making funds available immediately to allow us to effectively respond to this disaster. We urge other donors to continue to support this relief effort,” Saleheen said.

By Friday, WFP had delivered 122 metric tons of micronutrient-enriched noodles and biscuits, which are now being distributed to displaced people in camps.

Though flood waters are now receding, heavy rain is forecast for the coming days and further downpours could see the situation deteriorate quickly.

Meanwhile, a former Indonesian rebel and political prisoner on Friday was officially declared the winner in the first direct election for governor in Aceh province. He won 38.2 percent of the vote, according to the Aceh Independent Election Commission.

Irwandi Yusuf, who two years ago was held in an Acehnese prison, will be handling Aceh's recovery from the devastating deluge after he takes office on February 9.

Irwandi, a former guerilla with the separatist Free Aceh Movement, GAM, ran as an independent. He was endorsed by former GAM field commanders. GAM laid down its weapons in August 2005 in exchange for amnesty, special autonomy for Aceh and the right to contest future elections.