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Disease Fears Rise in Indonesia's Flood-Hit Capital

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 any outbreaks of diarrhea, cholera or skin disease as torrential rains overnight triggered fresh flooding in parts of the low-lying city of around 14 million people.

"We are concentrating on health issues to prevent diarrhea, cholera and leptospirosis (a disease spread by rats and mice) outbreaks by clearing up places and water sanitation," Rustam Pakaya, the health ministry's crisis center chief, told Reuters. "There are three cases of leptospirosis reported. All of the patients are treated. No cases of tetanus have been reported."

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

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

Teddy, a resident of Manggarai Bukit Duri in south Jakarta, said he was desperate to leave the shelter he was staying in. "We are cleaning our house hoping we can sleep in this house tonight," he said on Thursday as he swept mud and debris out of his home with his two brothers.

Rain For Bathing

The disruption in power affected water supplies in parts of the city, forcing people to use rain water for bathing.

Relief agencies distributed food and medicines to the displaced people while authorities moved some of the people whose homes have been flooded into a sports stadium.

"The Red Cross distributed 11,000 packages of food for communal kitchens, 5,000 hygiene kits, 5,000 packets of biscuits in five of the worst-hit areas yesterday," Irwan Hidayat, secretary of the Jakarta chapter of the Indonesian Red Cross. "Today, we are going to give medical treatment to the areas."

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 was contributing to the problem.

A previous flood disaster in 2002 saw widespread looting, but National Police Chief General Sutanto said there had been no repeat this time and he had dispatched 14,000 police officers to flood-hit areas, Antara news agency reported.

Indonesia's largest telecommunications firm, PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia, had suffered losses of around 18 billion rupiah ($1.99 million) due to flooding in areas in and around Jakarta, its chief was quoted by one newspaper as saying.

However, despite the flood's disruption of various business operations, and sporadic difficulties with telecommunications, Indonesia's rupiah currency was holding firm against the dollar Friday, while the share market key index was down only about half a percentage point at mid-morning.