Saturday, February 20, 2016

Heavy rain triggers floods and landslides in Indonesia

by Ahmad Husein, IFRC 

Torrential rains during the first week of February have caused severe flooding in eight provinces in Indonesia, heavily affecting Aceh, North and West Sumatra, Riau and Bangka Belitung. The floods isolated more than 89,000 people and forced them to evacuate to safer areas. The provinces of West Sumatra, Riau and Bangka Belitung have announced a state of emergency, while some districts in Purworejo in Central Java were hit by landslides. A 12 metre-high hill collapsed and buried two houses, killing seven people. It is estimated that around 9,450 people have been affected by the floods in West Sumatra, while landslides in the district of Solok Selatan left five people dead and one missing. 

In response to the emergency, the Indonesian Red Cross Society (Palang Merah Indonesia) deployed 200 volunteers to provide first aid, medical services, and to evacuate people in the affected areas. At the peak of the flooding, the Red Cross distributed relief items including 100 pairs of boots, 400 family kits and 300 tarpaulins in West Sumatra. 

“The floodwater rose up to three metres high, inundating five sub-districts in Pangkal Pinang City and forcing 4,800 people to leave their homes,” said Wahyono, an Indonesian Red Cross volunteer. 

Hundreds of local villagers insisted on staying on the second floor of their houses instead of evacuating even as the floods disrupted transportation lines and cut off power and water supplies. Overflowing rivers have swamped at least 674 houses, covered hundreds of hectares of farmland and causing damage to five bridges. The local Red Cross Chapter in Binjai City, North Sumatra, worked with local authorities to evacuate 3,000 people to shelters provided by the government. Meanwhile in Jakarta, the Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management estimated that at least 17 spots in the capital city have been inundated.   

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is supporting the response of the Indonesian Red Cross, utilizing a contribution of 135,000 Swiss Francs (around 200,000 Australian Dollars) from the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). 

“Thanks to funding we have obtained from the Australian Government, Palang Merah Indonesia will be able to provide immediate assistance to 5,000 people, especially women, children and the elderly in eight districts in Aceh, West Sumatra and Bangka Belitung provinces,” said Giorgio Ferrario, Head of the IFRC in Indonesia. 

The overall strategy will cover health services through a mobile clinic, including first aid services, health promotion and psychosocial support. The Red Cross also plans to provide clean water to the most affected areas and distribute relief items and kits for cleaning contaminated wells. Based on the information collected by assessment teams, the Red Cross is also considering a cash transfer programme for the affected communities, which will allow them to purchase items they need directly from local markets.

Link to the article: IFRC Website - Sumatra Flood 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Red Cross continues to support haze-hit communities in Indonesia

By Ahmad Husein, IFRC Indonesia (published: 18 November 2015)
Published: 18 November 2015 7:53 CET(
Published: 18 November 2015 7:53 CET
Published: 18 November 2015 7:53 CET

In recent weeks, long awaited monsoon rains have finally helped to extinguish a large portion of the devastating forest fires that have been raging in Indonesia for the past three months. The fires, caused by Palm oil and paper pulp companies and smallholder farmers illegally setting fire to forests to clear land to plant more trees, have had a devastating cost on the regions environment, economy and on human health. 

The worst hit areas of southern Kalimantan (Borneo) and western Sumatra have been enveloped in a toxic haze caused by the fires which also spread to neighbouring countries including Singapore and Malaysia. The burning of some 2.1 million hectares of forests and other land has caused 21 deaths and led to more than 500,000 falling ill with respiratory problems. 

 Efforts to extinguish the fires which began in July were hampered due to the dry conditions worsened by the current El Nino event impacting the region. According to the World Resources Institute, emissions from this year’s fires have reached 1.62 billion metric tons of CO2—which moved Indonesia from the sixth-largest emitter in the world up to the fourth-largest in just six weeks. 

When the fires escalated in September and October, the Indonesian Red Cross deployed over 600 volunteers to provide humanitarian support to affected communities in Kalimantan and Sumatra. The teams deployed with water tankers, ambulances and water purification units and also distributed thousands of face masks. 

Emergency funding from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) disaster response emergency fund (DREF), the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and USAID has helped support the Indonesian Red Cross’s relief work in nine districts across three affected provinces. 

A three month emergency response operations plan from November to January 2016 included the establishment of emergency houses, also known as “smoke-free facilities” which are equipped with air purifiers aimed at easing the respiratory problems caused by the haze. These centres cater particularly to vulnerable groups such as children, pregnant women and the elderly – by providing first aid, basic symptomatic treatment, health education, psycho-social support and referral to health facilities in case needed. 

Red Cross medical action teams are also providing mobile health services for people in remote areas who can’t access health facilities in cities. Doctors and medical staff provide first aid, distribution of oxygen, vitamins, eye drops and face masks as well as health education. 

 Fahmi Kubra, father of five children lives in Muara Teweh, Central Kalimantan. When thick smoke covered the city, his youngest child fell ill with a severe respiratory infection. When Fahmi brought his child to the local hospital, he found that all the rooms had been occupied with patients with the same problem. Most of them are children and the elderly. His only option was to return home and receive treatment as an outpatient. 

The situation for local residents in Palembang, South Sumatra was no different. “Of the patients we were treating with respiratory problems almost fifty percent were children,” explained Rugayah Haniya, a doctor at a local community health center in the city. 

Although the haze has now reduced significantly, community members still come to the Red Cross emergency houses with continuing respiratory complaints. With the rains come another set of health threats associated with waterborne and communicable diseases. One of the roles of the Red Cross mobile clinics is to conduct health promotion activities amongst local community to ensure they are better prepared in the event of any potential disease outbreaks.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Thousands go hungry as freak cold wave hits Papua

By Ahmad Husein, IFRC

Volunteers of Indonesian Red Cross Society are unloading aid materials in sub-district Kuyawage, Lanny Jaya. About 182,000 people are affected as extreme weather hit areas in Papua, Indonesia. Photo Credit: Indonesian Red Cross Society - See more at:
In recent weeks, thousands of people in the Indonesian Province of Papua have been suffering the effects of a severe cold wave that has left remote communities in need of food and clean water. The cold wave first struck at the beginning of July, hitting the district of Lanny Jaya particularly hard. The sub-districts of Kuyawage, West Wanu and Goa Baliem were struck by hailstorms accompanied by freezing temperatures which plunged to minus two degrees Celsius.

"Water is an urgent need for the communities in Lanny Jaya,” said the Executive Chairman of the Indonesian Red Cross Society, Ginandjar Kartasasmita. Local water sources are reportedly frozen or have been contaminated and supplies of bottled water are unavailable in local markets. In response, the Red Cross has so far distributed 500 gallons of drinking water, blankets and instant food to help 182,000 people who are in need of humanitarian assistance.

All aid items have been decided following a rapid assessment carried out by the Red Cross in coordination with local authorities which have distributed five tonnes of rice to Kuyawage and deployed two doctors and five nurses.

The average temperature in Lanny Jaya ranges between 17.8 degrees to 32 degrees and such an extreme cold wave hasn’t been witnessed since 1989. So far, nine people have died, half of whom were children. Hundreds of people are suffering from health problems while thousands are threatened with food shortages. The hailstorms caused severe damage to farmland and killed a large number of livestock.

“Our community has suffered as the hailstorms destroyed yam crops and people have nothing to harvest. It also killed 168 pigs which are our main livestock,” said Lenius Muria Lanny, head of Kuyawage sub-district. Delivering aid to the region is a major challenge. Affected villages are nestled high in the mountains and to reach them, Red Cross volunteers walked for three days with supplies as the unstable weather has hampered efforts to send materials by small aircraft which is normally the only form of transportation that can be relied upon.

According to the Indonesian Agency for Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysics (BMKG) the cold wave with accompanying hailstorms is a climatic event that could be attributed to El Niño which typically brings colder than normal temperatures to the far eastern Pacific during the June-August and September-November seasons.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Red Cross provides health and psychosocial services to grieving family members

By: Ahmad Husein, IFRC Indonesia

Following the disappearance of Air Asia’s flight QZ8501, the Indonesian Red Cross, locally known as Palang Merah Indonesia (PMI), opened its health and psychosocial services post at the Juanda International Airport in Surabaya, East Java. The Airbus A320-200, carrying 155 passengers and 7 crewmembers from Surabaya to Singapore, lost contact with air traffic control at 6.17am local time around Tanjung Pandan, an area between Borneo and Java Island. Debris from the plane and several bodies believed to be the passengers were found in the Pangkalan Bun area, Central Kalimantan, after more than 48 hours of intensive search efforts.

“We, in collaboration with the Surabaya Municipality, initiated the operation of this health and psychosocial service post on Monday for the family members who stayed at the airport waiting to hear news of their loved ones,” says Mirta Krisna, a PMI coordinator stationed at the post. While the authority focused on search and recovery operations, PMI sees the urgency of providing appropriate health services for the passengers’ family members. To smooth the operation, PMI deployed five skilled volunteers to work in three different shifts each day for 24 hours. They are equipped with two ambulances that are on standby at the airport.

In Sumatra, PMI’s Bangka Belitung chapter is providing an ambulance at the H.A.S Hanandjoeddin airport, the nearest location to where the plane reportedly crashed in East Belitung, Sumatera. Meanwhile, the PMI branch in Kotawaringin Barat, Central Kalimantan, has mobilized 25 volunteers to the search area to help local authorities. The Central Kalimantan Chapter provided two ambulance units, while the South Kalimantan Chapter contributed 80 body bags and one ambulance to help with the recovery efforts.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Indonesia: Red Cross responds to 6.2-magnitude earthquake in Aceh

 A rapid response team of ten staff from the Red Cross headquarters in Jakarta were deployed to the affected area to assist with assessments, and health and medical services. Photo: Indonesian Red Cross Society

Published: 2 August 2013 17:36 CET
By Ahmad Husein and Madeline Wilson, IFRC

One month after a 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck Aceh Province, Indonesia, the Red Cross continues to provide support to affected communities. Over 52,000 people were forced to flee their homes after the earthquake struck Aceh Tengah and Bener Meriah districts, killing 42 people and injuring over 2,500 people.

The Indonesian Red Cross Society – or Palang Merah Indonesia (PMI) – initially deployed 32 volunteers to reach both locations to assist with search and rescue operations, assess needs and distribute relief supplies. A rapid response team of ten staff from the Red Cross headquarters in Jakarta also deployed to the affected area to assist with assessments, and health and medical services.

 For 43-year-old Mahyudin, the earthquake occurred when he was on his way home from work in Aceh Tengah. His first thoughts were for the safety of his wife and their three children.

“The world seemed to end,” Mahyudin remembering the moment the earthquake struck. Mahyudin later found that part of his house had indeed collapsed, but his family were safe. They evacuated to a safer place with 40 other families from the neighbourhood and erected shelters. Later that evening, Mahydin’s entire house collapsed during the aftershocks that continued into the night.

Mahyudin’s family are one of the 1,500 families who have received clean drinking water from the five Red Cross water trucks – each one provides a total of 25,000 litres of water each day. Mahuydin’s son also attends the informal educational activities being carried out by Red Cross volunteers, to provide a place for children to play and learn while they are unable to go to school, as classrooms were damaged and school operations are currently on hold while teachers and families in the area begin to recover.

Mahyudin explained that he was worried about his son after the earthquake, but the support from the Red Cross has helped to create a sense of normality. “He is okay now, playing with his friends without any complaint. I am very relieved for him,” says Mahyudin.

Hundreds of earthquake survivors have received medical treatment from three Red Cross mobile health clinics. The clinic teams travelled in ambulances to remote areas, particularly in Aceh Tengah, and included doctors and nurses, while an orthopaedic surgeon supported operations in the Datu Beru Hospital in Takengon City, Aceh Tengah.

The Red Cross has distributed relief supplies in 24 villages, including over 600 family kits, 500 tarpaulins, 1,600 blankets, 200 baby kits, clothing and other essential supplies. The Red Cross has also distributed  20,000 zinc roof sheets to repair the roofs of 1,000 houses.

The operation being carried out by the Indonesian Red Cross Society is supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Funds from the IFRC’s Disaster Response Emergency Fund have been released to support the distribution of essential supplies, health services, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene activities.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Thousands leave their homes following floods in Jakarta

Published: 22 January 2013 15:44 CET
By Ahmad Husein, Senior development and communication manager, IFRC Indonesia

The Indonesian Red Cross Society is assisting in the clean up after flood waters inundated parts of Jakarta, leaving 11 people dead, and the city’s transport network disrupted. Khairul Saleh, who works at the organization’s headquarters in Jakarta said his village of Rawa Buaya, Cengkareng was cut off by flood water, and dozens of people were evacuated to higher ground. Volunteers in the area also established shelters and set up a field kitchen to ensure everyone was fed.

In the wake of the floods, 230 Indonesian Red Cross staff and volunteers quickly responded to the flood hit Jakarta after two days torrential rain poured the capital city and outlying areas including Bogor, Bekasi and Tangerang. Thousands of people on the way to work were forced back home.

One of crucial parts in evacuation process is to make sure everybody was safely transferred to shelters. Many people living along the river bank of Ciliwung, were reluctant to leave their homes. Some left only when the water level reached dangerous levels and the situation became more serious, and the assistance of a search and rescue team was the only way out.

The Indonesian Red Cross Society sent out five water rescue teams in partnership with local authorities to search and save trapped residents in affected areas. Eventually, they rescued 100 residents in five villages around east and south Jakarta.

“We continue our searching by boat to ensure nobody left in flooded areas,” said Budi Pranoto, a field coordinator at East Jakarta chapter.

The organization has provided almost 25,000 meal packages per day for the 20,000 survivors currently living in tents and shelters.

Puji is staying at a shelter in a primary school in Kebon Baru, Tebet South Jakarta with her child. She said she felt lucky as Red Cross and local government erected tents to survivors and give them meals and clean water.

Though she is concerned for her parents insisted on staying at their house.  “I hope Red Cross can bring them here,” she said.

Recently the organization has undertaken promotional work to ensure that people in areas at risk of flood understand the most effective ways of keeping themselves and their families safe.

Nur Hasanah, 50, ilives in Kebon Baru, Tebet South Jakarta, a village which experienced a three metre flood. She chose to leave the house with her two children as soon as it became clear that floods were on the way. “Thank God all of us are safe,” she said.

Nur has been part of the Red Cross community-based action team for the past three year and has been involved in emergency planning in preparation for a flood or other disaster. She advised villagers on safe evacuation and is currently working in a field kitchen.

“It is always good to help people. And I’m good in cooking,” she said.

While the flood water is beginning to recede, the Indonesian Red Cross Society is urging everyone to stay on alert for more extreme weather predicted over the next few weeks.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Indonesia: six months on from volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunami

Published: 26 April 2011 17:01 CET

By Ahmad Husein (IFRC) and Aulia Arriani (Indonesian Red Cross) in Indonesia

October 2010 proved to be one of most challenging months the Indonesian Red Cross or Palang Merah Indonesia (PMI), has faced in recent years, as the country was hit by a double disaster. In Central Java and Yogyakarta province tåhe eruption of Mount Merapi caused 40 casualties. And at the same time, an earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale resulted in a tsunami which hit the Mentawai islands in West Sumatra and caused the deaths of 400 people.

Between Mentawi and Merapi, approximately 103,750 people were left in need of support. The IFRC responded by launching an emergency appeal, calling for 5 million Swiss Francs (equivalent to approximately 5 million US dollars/3.7 million euro) to support the Indonesian Red Cross in their response. Since then, PMI has constructed 516 shelters for 2,500 families on Pagai Selatan Island, Mentawai and delivered health services through mobile clinics following the tsunami.

Three elementary students in Boyolali district, Central Java, washing their hands as part of a Red Cross health promotion programme at elementary schools around Mount Merapi.
Bonapasius, a resident of Purorogat hamlet on the Pagai Selatan coast of the Mentawai islands, clearly remembers how the disaster had totally crushed his family’s life. “There was nothing left. I had no house to live in or any belongings either, but I am lucky as all my family members survived,” he said.

The situation for Bonapasius and his family changed when PMI started to build shelters in a relocation site called KM 37. The shelter was completed in February and Bonafasius, his wife and four children now enjoy their new small wooden home. “I am now more than ready to continue my life,” he said.

Elementary students in Boyolali display a poster about the importance of using soap when washing hands.

Following the tsunami, shelter was immediately identified by PMI as one of the biggest problems. Despite the society’s experience in constructing temporary shelters following the Padang earthquake in 2009, responding to the needs on the Mentawai islands was a major challenge. Mentawai is a collection of islands, 150 kilometres off the West Sumatra coast. It takes at least 13 hours to reach the island from Padang, the capital city of the province. Bad weather regularly hampered efforts to bring essential materials to the islands.

The Red Cross involved the affected communities in building their shelters from the very beginning of the process. As the government had moved the communities from affected villages to four different areas, 120 PMI volunteers came to the islands from West Sumatra to work with the community in those four sites.

These PMI volunteers met with community leaders to ensure that the support given met their needs, as well as to ensure that no family or individual would fall through the net. In the distribution of cash grants, PMI transferred to the community group account rather than individual personal accounts, eventually working with over 120 groups. These communities also assisted Red Cross volunteers in building the shelters. Through this approach, a sense of belonging developed among the those benefiting from the programme. Families were also free to add a personal touch their shelters by modifying rooms or adding a terrace.

Students in Boyolali district demonstrate how to brush the teeth in front of their friends. 
Meanwhile at Merapi, although the volcanic activity had reduced, secondary hazards continued to threaten communities living near the volcano. The primary risk was from volcanic ash. As well as damaging the local infrastructure, falling ash also caused environmental problems and a lack of clean water. A cold lava flood four months after the eruption, destroyed two bridges connecting Yogyakarta and Magelang and paralyzed transportation between the two cities. 

Knowing that safe drinking water was in critical need for those around the volcano, PMI distributed more than 31 million litres of water to affected people in four districts of Central Java and Yogyakarta in the five months following the main eruption.

“This is the most volume of water we ever provided to communities in a disaster,” said Dr. Lilis Wijaya, PMI’s head of health and social service division. The operation in Merapi also gave our water and sanitation team another new experience: the longest assignment they ever had.

PMI has now completed the installation of water tanks in several villages along with the distribution of hoes and shovels for villagers to clean their land and restart their lives.

A PMI volunteers distributes water from Red Cross water tank to affected people in four districts in Central Java and Yogyakarta province.
In the Merapi operation, PMI mobilized its medical action team to work in areas not covered by local puskesmas (community health centres), reaching more than 1,600 people. PMI also conducted health promotion operations in three sub-districts in Central Java ensuring communities were aware of the threats from diseases such as malaria as part of the community health response. A psychosocial support programme also reached out to hundreds of school pupils affected by the disaster in Magelang district.