February 9, 2007 / 9:24 AM / 11 years ago

Disease fears rise in Indonesia's flood-hit capital

(updates with UNICEF, president comments)

By Achmad Sukarsono

JAKARTA, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Fears of disease gripped Indonesia's flood-hit capital on Friday with thousands of people living in cramped emergency shelters and some streets still inundated a week after the city's worst floods in five years.

Authorities are on guard for outbreaks of diarrhoea, cholera or skin disease as heavy rains overnight triggered fresh flooding in the low-lying metropolitan area of around 14 million people.

"We are concentrating on health issues to prevent diarrhoea, cholera and leptospirosis outbreaks by clearing up places and water sanitation," health ministry official Rustam Pakaya said. Leptospirosis is a disease spread by rat urine.

The floods in Jakarta have killed 57 people and more than 250,000 are still displaced from their homes, many sheltering under flyovers or in plastic tents near graveyards.

A group of horse carriage operators huddled under a flyover in East Jakarta with their carriages and horses as ankle-high manure spread around and mixed with cooking utensils.

Several blocks away in a seaside slum, children tried to net small fish in a wide gutter where brownish water gushed while a flock of ducks swam on a garbage-filled river nearby. Traffic moved slowly and several cars broke down as parts of a city highway were inundated by water following the floods that have also caused blackouts and cut telecommunications.

In North Jakarta's Plumpang slum, displaced women and children crammed the upper floor of a mosque while boxes of aid filled its veranda, halving space for Friday prayers.

"Why have disasters hit this country over and over again? We are being tested by God so that we do not stay selfish," said Haji Siswandi, the mosque's imam, during his sermon to a congregation of 200 sitting on the domed building's lower floor.

"Our leaders are selfish, our economic players are selfish," he said, adding government failed to learn lessons from the 2002 floods and make good use of funds earmarked to prevent repeats.

Officials and green groups have blamed excessive construction in Jakarta's water catchment areas for making the floods worse, while a deputy environment minister told Reuters on Wednesday that climate change contributed to the problem.


Young mother Desi Julian, living at the mosque for a week with her four-month-old baby, said water was still chest deep in her house on one of the district's messy alleyways. "We have received aid but we have to share because many have evacuated here. If we get food in the morning, we won't get any in the evening," she said after breastfeeding her baby.

United Nations' children agency UNICEF urged young mothers to stick to breastfeeding as using infant formula in dirty water could cause deaths among babies.

"We are concerned the lack of safe water could lead to an outbreak of diseases among children," UNICEF representative in Indonesia Gianfranco Rotigliano said in a statement.

The agency said it planned to supply 240,000 people with clean water.

Other evacuees complained more attention has been given to relatively affluent flood victims living in the adjacent district of Kelapa Gading where upscale apartments, glittering malls and gated housing compounds have mushroomed in recent years.

"We have been forgotten. Aid is going more to the affected rich than poor people like us," said mother of two Eni Mutmainah.

Through the week pictures of the flooded elite area and its residents saving their pets have been splashed across the front pages of Indonesian dailies to show all groups are affected.

Looting which occured during Jakarta's 2002 floods has not become a widespread problem this year but President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono issued a warning on Friday to those who might have such intentions.

"We are concerned with misleading information calling for looting which is provocative," he said referring to telephone text messages that have been circulating in the city urging people to loot.

"I support the police in enforcing the law," he told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

Yudhoyono also said the government would take steps to prevent inflation.

Despite the flood's disruption of various business operations, and sporadic difficulties with telecommunications, Indonesia's rupiah currency was holding firm against the dollar on Friday, while the share market key index closed down less than a percentage point.

($1=9,045 rupiah)

(Additional reporting by Mita Valina Liem and Muklis Ali)

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