Indonesia: Flooding in Jakarta: It was a black friday and it isn't over yet

By Prabha Chandran in Jakarta

In the 15 months I have lived in Indonesia it has been rocked by a series of natural disasters-some so severe they were headlined around the world, but many more that were only a blip on news tickers inured to daily reports of tremors, floods and landslides.

The enormous human suffering of Indonesia is something that cannot be quantified in the damage and loss assessments or reconstruction reports that are put out. I thought of this as devastating floods continued to smash through the capital for the sixth day, and those who believed they had witnessed the worst in the 2002 Jakarta floods are shaking their heads that things could actually get worse.

Homes Have Been Flooded for Six Days

As I look out on the comparative calm of Jalan Jendral Sudirman, where our office is located, its hard to imagine that even15 minutes away there are people who are marooned in flooded homes for the sixth day. Today, almost 75 percent of this bustling capital of 12 million people is affected by floods following another heavy deluge last night. Some 35 people have died and 340,000 Jakartans have been moved to mosques, schools, and other buildings that are serving as emergency shelters. Diseases like gastroenteritis now afflict 50,000 people, and food, water, and fuel supplies are running low.

Miraculously, all Bank group staff are safe, although some left their homes and others have needed emergency rescue and relocation. Kundavi Kadiresan, acting country director for Indonesia, is leading the efforts to monitor safety of 183 staff in the Jakarta office with a core team consisting of Stephen K. Jones, the regional security advisor, and Bakti Sudaryono, head of administration in the Jakarta office.

With 14 years of experience in a city that was rocked by political violence and previous floods, Pak Bakti is calm as he tests the efficiency of a call tree that he and Stephen put together to deal with a possible avian flu outbreak. Now, it is helping to reach out to flood-affected staff.

"While we are facing challenges in dealing with this emergency, this planning has helped us to respond swiftly," says Stephen. "Staff have been very resilient under difficult circumstances and we have been able to help those most seriously affected to relocate."

Staff Members Escape

German A Vegarra, head of IFC, also has an emergency team tracking the welfare of 60 staff, some of whom were badly affected by the floods. "As I was running down the street through waist high sewage water, I had two bags on my head and my wife was carrying the baby," recalls Oka Simanjuntak who works as an Investment Promotion Consultant at IFC Business Enabling Environment Program.

"We swerved to avoid a big truck and my wife fell into a rushing storm water drain with the baby. I was desperately holding on to her hand while still holding the bags with the other, and I remember thinking, this can't be happening to me, I see this on TV--in other disasters." Fortunately, Oka's wife was saved by her brother, who reached the spot on a boat and the family is now in a temporary house rented by the IFC.

With more rains predicted in the days ahead, the Jakarta team is working closely with counterparts in D.C. to provide adequate support for staff who need shelter, relocation, or medical assistance.

Another colleague who is grateful for timely support is Bernadetta Sulistyarini, PENSA team Coordinator, who is still trying to live down memories of a traumatizing jump from a second floor balcony into a small rescue boat: "I was frozen with fear clinging to the railing, refusing to jump.

"When I could hang on no longer, I said a prayer, dropped my shoe, it landed in the boat, so I finally jumped." Both have bruises, but are in good health. To read their first hand accounts and those of two other colleagues who were rescued by boat. Sabine Joukes, Deputy for Communications for the Multidonor Fund, and Safitra Amalia, a Receptionist at IFC, click here.

With more rains predicted in the days ahead, the Jakarta team is working closely with counterparts in D.C. to provide adequate support for staff who need shelter, relocation, or medical assistance. "We are watching the situation closely and working with our Washington colleagues to bring the best possible medical and other support to our staff," says Kundavi, who is aware that "a number of staff will need assistance once they return to their homes." When that will be remains a big question, as the city hunkers down for fresh showers.