The poor live on low ground waiting for the river
to rise one night and sweep them out to sea.
I’ve seen small cradles floating by, the wrecks
of houses, chairs, and a great rage of ash-
pale water draining terror from the sky:
this is all yours, poor man, for your wife and crop,
your dog and tools, for you to learn to beg.
No water climbs to the homes of gentlemen
whose snowy collars flutter on the line.
It feeds on this rolling mire, these ruins winding
their idle course to the sea with your dead,
among roughcut tables and the luckless trees
that bob and tumble turning up bare root.
Actually, that wasn’t 100% true last year as it was a “luxury housing complex” in Pondok Labu, South Jakarta that bore the brunt of an overflowing River Krukut. The cause was not so much the heavy rain as that in March last year the marines reduced the width of the river from six metres to two in order to expand their shooting range.
Still, although more than 250 families have had to evacuate their homes, City Hall assured them that work to demolish the culvert would commence in late December and would be completed “before Jan. 30.” Except work wasn’t started because the Public Works Agency said, “We are afraid that if we tear down the culvert, the houses will be damaged.”
This seems to sum up the laissez-faire attitude of City Hall; their Public Works Dept. schedules ‘flood prevention’ work for the usual peak of the rainy season.
Storm drains are being left uncovered as apparently “they perform better.” After a 55-year old woman died after falling in one in front of the Carrefour hypermarket in Cempak Putih, the head of the Public Works Dept stated, “We encourage people to step carefully.” This isn’t the place to bemoan the lack of adequate sidewalks or street lighting but …
I’m writing this in advance of the expected “exceptional” floods caused by La Niña which may, or may not according to Sri Woro Harijono, the head of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), occur in a five yearly cycle, exacerbated by climate change. The UN World Meteorological Organization has stated that it’s already here. However, Ibu Sri has warned City Hall that in January, “there will be a high potential for flooding because nearly all areas in Jakarta are at high risk.”
Indeed. Some 40% of the city lies below sea level and it is sinking at a rate of up to 3 centimetres a year thanks to the uncontrolled extraction of groundwater and the weight of new buildings. Add to this the rising sea level, at about 3mm a year, neap tides which the talkfest in Copenhagen next month won’t do a thing to ‘solve’, as King Canute (985 – 1035) demonstrated.
Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo recently called on everyone to stop scaring people with predictions of massive floods this year, but I started a long tme ago and I’m not going to stop now!
Unless the lowlanders of Holland were to return and govern the city I can’t see any other solution but to abandon it to Mother Nature.
Historic floods in Jakarta
1621 First recorded major flood, although construction of canals had started two years earlier.
1654 Flood ruined most mulberry groves causing shortage of Tonkinese silk.
1699 Ciliwung river floods old Batavia after Mount Salak erupts.
1714 Ciliwung river overflows after clearing forest areas in Puncak.
1854 New Batavia is a meter under water, caused by the raging Ciliwung.
1918 Extensive flooding. The Dutch colonial government begins work on the Western Flood Canal.
1932 Flood caused by conversion of Puncak forest into tea and rubber plantations sweeps away houses in Sabang and Jl. Thamrin.
Governor Ali Sadikin (1966-77) kept the city virtually flood-free through a programme of cleaning, maintenance and construction of water channels with funds drawn from legal gambling.
1973 Sadikin’s administration completes the Master Plan for Drainage and Flood Control of Jakarta, which includes the East Flood Canal.
Since the 1990’s ……..
1996 A flood sweeps through the capital and approximately 10 people die.
2000 Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso spoke about the need to dredge the West Canal and to build the East Canal. “Although we have had the master plan of the canals since 1975, due to budget problems (corruption?) we could not build them.”
2002 The Dartmouth Flood Observatory notes it as the largest flood in Jakarta’s history. 25 people died.
2007 The greatest flood in the last three centuries inundates about 40% of the city, killing 80 people and forcing about 340,000 to flee.
The then Vice Governor Fauzi Bowo offered the excuse that there was nothing that could have been done to prevent it because “Floods happen everywhere in the world.”
2012 The East Banjir (Flood) Canal is completed and ….?
The Post reported in the first week of this year that City Hall had finally woken up to “the extraordinary risk that disastrous flooding poses to the capital” and was “drafting a contingency plan.”
“We are planning to provide evacuation maps and flooding-mitigation guides in each community unit across the city.”
“Drafting”? “Planning”? Are they referring to this year or to a 5, 10, or 30 Strategic Plan?
This is a slightly edited version of an article published in the Jakarta Expat magazine 61st edition.
Climate Change, Disaster Risk and the Urban Poor (Jakarta Case Study Overview) (pub. World Bank 2011)
“There is very little quantified, centralized information about the most vulnerable communities in Jakarta, the urban poor and informal settlements.“
“Jakarta Coastal Sea Defense [is] coupled with land reclamation and improved pumping capacity. This is still in the design stages.”
“Plans have been developed for some time to expand the capacity of the pipes to increase [potable] water supply to Jakarta, and therefore ease the causes of subsidence, but they are not yet underway.“
Jakarta Flood Hazard Mapping Framework (.pdf) by Jan Jaap Brinkman and Marco Hartman
The Jakarta Post and Jakarta Globe, Bisnis Indonesia