Nuns swim to the rescue of children caught up in Jakarta’s flooding
The Catholic Church in Indonesia is involved in aid and assistance operations on behalf of victims of last week’s floods. It warns the crisis might turn into a health disaster, especially for the poor. Only 510 have been hospitalised out of 200,000 people already suffering from flood-related illnesses.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Last week with Jakarta under water several Franciscan Missionaries of Mary took off their religious habits, put on life jackets and jumped in to the rescue of children and adults. On dry ground they helped Catholic volunteers and priests manage the humanitarian and health crisis caused by flooding in the Indonesian capital.

Officially 85 people died and another 500,000 were displaced. Health authorities remain on high alert for possible effects of flooding on public health. Similarly, the Church is warning that something must be done for “poor who are in tragic conditions”.

Some 200,000 people are already suffering from flood-related illnesses, but according to official sources only 510 people have been treated in hospital.

Health facilities’ resources are under serious strains. The Health Ministry's crisis centre is concerned by the rising number of people suffering from diarrhoea, dengue fever and severe respiratory problems and remains on high alert for any sign of epidemic outbreak.

The risk is high that diseases will spread as people stay in cramped emergency shelters or move back into houses without clean water, plumbing and power.

Fr Ignatius Ismartono, SJ, coordinator for the Crisis and Reconciliation Service of the Bishops’ Conference of Indonesia, is directly involved in providing aid and assistance. He said that children are the most at risk from skin diseases and fever.

“We are working with aid that has arrived from Caritas Germany and Austria,” said the Jesuit clergyman. “We are responsible for 5,000 people in the 39 parishes that were affected by flooding.”

Father Ismartono said that some nuns belonging to the order of the Franciscan missionaries of Mary (see photo) “jumped into the water that in some areas was as high as three metres (ten feet) to rescue different people, adults and children.”

For now the Bishops’ Conference crisis service has given out about a thousand hygiene kits and provided people with drinking water. But the situation remains very serious. “The poor are really in a bad situation,” Father Ismartono explained. “They lost their homes and are now getting sick. The rich at least can afford a hotel and stay away from possible sources of contagion.”