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Flash floods bring misery to the east of Indonesia

Across the eastern province of Papua in Indonesia, flash floods have caused the deaths of at least 145 people and forced over 4,600 to flee their homes. Papua is a mountainous area and the floods have caused damage to an already poor infrastructure. Roads have been blocked by mud and landslides and bridges have collapsed. The blockages have been hampering the efforts of relief agencies to reach the worst-affected areas.

In the western half of Papua, the Wasior district has no electricity and medical centres are struggling to cope. More than 800 people have been reported injured across the region. The local airport has also been submerged by mud, around a metre in depth, so only the smallest planes have been able to bring in relief supplies. As a result, emergency food and water is being sent by boat and helicopter. Continual rain is also making the work of rescue teams incredibly difficult as they search for survivors. One woman said where bodies had not yet been recovered, there is the smell of rotting corpses.

According to the Indonesian Red Cross, over 100 people are still missing across the region, many in the Teluk Wondama district, where floods and landslides struck homes after a river burst its banks. The National Search and Rescue Agency, as well as the military, have been sent to help deal with the disaster and navy vessels have been deployed to carry tents, food and medical supplies. Evacuation centres have also been set up for those at risk from further flooding.

Forestry experts have been asked to investigate the area by the Indonesian government, which believes that illegal logging may be to blame for the widespread damage caused by the flooding. Recently, the government has appointed Kuntoro Mangkusubroto to head up Indonesia’s new REDD agency, the organisation encompassing 58 nations set up to halve deforestation globally by 2020. Mr Mangkusubroto is currently Indonesia’s most respected official, after he oversaw the redevelopment of Aceh following the tsunami. His appointment signals a new commitment in Indonesia to the saving of the rainforests. In May, the government announced a two-year moratorium on commercial deforestation and in response, Norway pledged 1 billion dollars towards REDD in Indonesia. Funding and organisation to tackle illegal logging is desperately needed. Action may come too late for those who have lost their lives through the landslides in Papua. But in the future, the vital work of saving trees may ensure other Indonesians do not suffer a similar fate.

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