Massive flooding in West Sumatra claims several lives Massive flooding in West Sumatra claims several lives  (AFP or licensors)

West Sumatra Bishop: Climate change provoked natural calamity

In an interview with Vatican News, West Sumatra's Bishop Vitus Rubianto Solichin of Padang, Indonesia, discusses the tragic flooding that has slammed the region, attributing it and other natural calamities to climate change, and explains challenges to providing aid.

By Deborah Castellano Lubov

Flash floods and mud slides in Indonesia's West Sumatra province have claimed at least 52 lives, and more than 3,000 people have been evacuated.

In an interview with Vatican News, West Sumatra's Bishop Vitus Rubianto Solichin, s.x., discussed the ongoing disaster, and how such catastrophes are becoming more frequent and devastating as the environmental crisis hits new highs.

On Saturday evening, torrential rain triggered flash floods, landslides, and cold lava flow, in three districts in West Sumatra province, reported Reuters. The cold lava flow, a mud-like mixture of volcanic ash, rock debris, and water, came from Mount Marapi, one of Sumatra's most active volcanoes, which erupted and claimed lives in December, and has erupted several times since.

Of the 52 dead, the news agency states, more than 45 have been identified, and local rescuers, police, and military continue to search for 17 others who are missing. As of Tuesday, nearly 3,400 people had been evacuated to nearby buildings.

Heavy rains in West Sumatra province are expected until next week, which, authorities warn, means staying alert about flash floods and landslides until at least May 22nd. People have been cautioned to stay away from hillsides that are prone to landslides.

Bishop of Padang: Striking landslide affecting many

In the interview, the Bishop of Padang recalled the torrential rains that slammed West Sumatra in the province of the diocese of Padang.

He called the damages "very striking," given the immensity of this landslide, and that so many people are affected, with blockages preventing movement.

"If the government and rescuers work together to clean the area, then traffic and movement will be okay," and the inconveniences and perils can be mitigated, the Bishop explained.

Need for better infrastructure

"The government," he lamented, "is not willing to build a highway." 

Given the propensity in West Sumatra, especially from October to April, even if now it is May, to battle these torrential rains, he stressed the urgent need to be equipped and to have solutions ready to face natural calamities, such as this one, at any time.

The many hills and valleys in West Sumatra, combined with small and provincial roads, the Bishop explained, exacerbate the situation.

"Especially because of deforestation, landslides will happen more and more often," he said, observing various calamities provoked by natural disasters are happening ever more frequently.

“Especially because of deforestation, landslides will happen more and more often”

Indonesia has the world's highest Muslim population, and in West Sumatra, they represent an especially high percentage of the population. "Especially in my diocese, Christians are not even 0.1%"

"There are about 75,000 people affected," he noted, "but none of them are Christians. I asked the priests of our parishes. There is no victim among our Christian people."

Aid efforts

A key problem facing those of any religion affected, "is that we have also the Christian or Catholic rescuers, but sometimes the Muslim people do not want to receive the Christian aid or Catholic aid."

"Therefore, he explained, we have to use other names, that seem more neutral or common, like the Red Cross. 

"They won't accept our help," the Bishop explained, "as they say, 'This is from Christians.'"

"This is also the problem," he said. "We want to help them, but they don't want to receive services from the Church," thinking "sometimes that it means we want to Christianize them, but it's not like that."

Living and coexisting together

"We share this tragedy together," he said.

“We share this tragedy together.”

West Sumatra, he noted, is the most eastern and the most Islamic part of Indonesia, as he explained that "the majority of the Muslims, including where there are fundamentalists, are here."

"But in daily life," he reassured, "we can live together, coexist, and collaborate with the government."

Intense flooding and landslides in West Sumatra
Intense flooding and landslides in West Sumatra

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14 May 2024, 15:30