Residents brace for the worst as peak rainy season approaches

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Apriadi Gunawan and Syofiardi Bachyul Jb

The Jakarta Post, Medan/Padang | February 15 2016 | 3:09 PM

Flood victims and residents in flood-prone regions will not be able to breathe a sigh of relief anytime soon, as authorities say this year’s rainy season will only pass its peak early next month.

In North Sumatra’s provincial capital of Medan, the local Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) is calling on residents to remain cautious of floods until the end of February, as strong rainfall is predicted for the next two weeks.

Medan BPBD head Hanna Lore Simanjuntak said on Sunday that her institution had informed all district and subdistrict heads in the municipality about the flood risk.

“We expect them to pass the information on to residents, so that they can prepare necessary anticipative measures,” she said.

Among the flood-prone areas in Medan are the districts of Medan Maimun, Medan Baru and Medan Petisah, all located in the southern part of the city. The BPBD, Hanna said, had prepared two rubber boats to help evacuate residents should floods hit these areas.

Meanwhile in West Sumatra, flooding in 10 regencies of the province last week affected more than 30,000 people. Most of the victims, especially those in the three worst-hit regencies of Limapuluh Kota, South Solok and Pasaman, have not yet received sufficient logistical and medical assistance.

West Sumatra BPBD emergency and logistic division head R. Pagar Negara said his office had asked the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) to send a helicopter to distribute emergency aid to 300 affected families in South Mapat Tunggul district, Pasaman regency.

“Landslides have blocked the road leading to the region in 20 spots, making it impossible for us to send the aid overland,” he said.

In Indonesia, the rainy season normally starts in October and the dry season in April.

However, after a prolonged dry season triggered by the El Niño weather phenomenon, the rainy season finally arrived in many parts of the country in December and has since intensified, triggering floods and landslides in several provinces, including Aceh, North Sumatra, West Sumatra, Riau and Central Java, over the past weeks.

Last week, BNPB spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said floods and landslides triggered by heavy rains had hit 166 regions across the archipelago during the first five weeks of the year, claiming a total of 43 lives and affecting more than 75,000 people.

The delay to the start of the rainy season, Sutopo said, would make it reach its peak in February, a couple of months later than the normal schedule.

The head of the Indonesian Geologists Association’s (IAGI) West Sumatra branch, Ade Edward, attributed floods that recently hit nine regions in the province to geological factors.

“The problem lies with the lack of spatial planning in flood-prone areas; that such areas have been developed into residential or office compounds, which explains why floods affect more and more people here,” Ade said.

The affected regions, he added, had been recurrently hit by floods and flash floods. Some even experienced landslides.

He said floods struck at least once every two years in those regions, while major floods occurred once in five years.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Forum for the Environment’s (Walhi) West Sumatra executive director, Uslaini, blamed environmental damage in a number of riverbank areas for the recent floods and landslides.

She urged the provincial administration to evaluate mining business licenses and apply moratoriums on new licenses to avoid further destruction in the areas.

“Otherwise, disasters will always hit West Sumatra,” she said.