The Western Division of Fiji’s Viti Levu, the country’s largest island, was badly affected by the flooding. At least 10,000 people were housed in schools used as temporary shelters. Water and electricity services were scarce in some parts of the country for several days. A state of emergency was declared by the government in the wake of the disaster.
Flash floods hit the major cities of northern Mindanao in the Philippines on the first day of the New Year. Mindanao Island is located in the southernmost part of the country. At least 30,000 individuals were affected by the disaster.
A second wave of flooding submerged the region last week. Strong rains produced flash floods and deadly landslides in the southern provinces. Officials reported that 80 percent of the villages in the major city of the region were damaged by the flooding. At least 100,000 people were displaced by the flooding catastrophe.
Thirteen provinces in Indonesia were hit by flooding. The floods were reported in several districts of West Nusa Tenggara, Sumatra, Java, Bali, Borneo and Sulawesi provinces. More than 50,000 people had to be evacuated to safer places. Many parts of Jakarta were inundated with seawater. Flooding is normal in the nation’s capital but some bloggers have observed that the recent flooding was “unseasonably early.”
Flooding disrupted the lives of thousands of residents in Malaysia’s Sarawak state, especially in the areas of Bau, Kuching and Sibu. Almost 10,000 people were forced to move to higher ground because of rising water levels. In some parts of the state, flood waters rose to 14 feet. More than 8,000 people in the Bau District were evacuated in 24 temporary shelters. Authorities were forced to shut down 119 schools.
The disaster areas are all located in the southern region of the Asia-Pacific. While tropical storms and flooding are frequent in this part of the world, it is rare that flooding calamities have occurred almost simultaneously. Today’s flooding disaster is not as enormous as the 2004 Asian tsunami, but many bloggers have described the recent flooding as the worst that ever happened in their countries.
The January flooding in Sarawak, Malaysia was worse than the disastrous flooding in 2004. In fact, this year’s flooding was said to be the worst in 20 years. The flooding in northern Mindanao in the Philippines was also unprecedented. The damage caused by the flooding was described by local officials as reaching humanitarian crisis proportions.
What caused the floods? Non-stop rains led to the overflowing of rivers and other bodies of water which flooded the low-lying areas of the affected regions. But there may be other factors as well. Many have insisted that the series of floods was also a manmade disaster caused by garbage pollution, poor infrastructure, urban development, and ineffective flood control programs.
Global warming was also cited as another cause of the freak weather patterns in the region. For example, tropical Philippines is experiencing an unusual cold weather spell.
But if the flooding created enormous casualties, why was there no sense of panic in these countries? Maybe the inhabitants of these islands have learned to expect flooding as a constant but unwelcome visitor in their communities. Maybe they were also unaware of the flooding disasters in neighboring countries.
There have been consistent media reports about the flooding in each of the cited countries, but few have mentioned that the flooding disasters were a region-wide calamity. News reports were mainly focused on specific countries. If concerned citizens and government officials were informed about the regional character of the calamity, maybe they would have initiated region-wide programs to address the flooding problem and its aftermath.
That the flooding tragedies occurred mainly in the provinces and rural areas of Malaysia and the Philippines is another possible explanation why few people were concerned about the flooding. Since the political and economic centers of these countries were unaffected by the flooding, there was no reason for the government and media to sound the alarm. The flooding calamities were trivialized. They were not reported as a top national and international concern.
The best sources of information about the flooding are to be found on the Internet. Citizen journalists in the provinces were active in reporting about their experiences while floodwaters were rising in their towns. They uploaded pictures and videos of the impact.
Filipino bloggers have launched a donation drive through Plurk and other social networking sites. Some bloggers in Fiji have criticized the government for its delayed response to the crisis.
Bloggers accused mainstream media of underreporting the flood destruction in the provinces. They couldn’t understand why the media was prioritizing other mundane local issues while many rural communities were under flood waters. Some even questioned the local media’s obsession with Gaza and Barack Obama’s inauguration while their own fellow citizens were suffering in the provinces.
The floodwaters are already gone in the affected areas but the tragedy lingers. It will take some time before local businesses could bounce back. Students couldn’t yet return to school. Roads have to be cleaned, homes have to be repaired, flood canals have to be reconstructed and more temporary evacuation centers are still required. Where would cash-strapped governments find the resources to finance these projects?