Jakarta Flood Prevention ‘Needs to Be Top Priority’

By webadmin on 11:55 pm Dec 25, 2012
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Ronna Nirmala, Bayu Marhaenjati & Lenny Tristia Tambun

Reeling from the impact of the severe floods that have hit the city in the past several days, the Jakarta administration now acknowledges that extreme measures are needed to control flooding as a sustained rainy season beckons. 

Deputy Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama said on Monday that he and Governor Joko Widodo had discussed the issue in depth and realized the need to rethink their existing flood-mitigation policies.

“If we don’t take extreme measures, we won’t be able to control the flooding,” he said.

He added that one of the key measures urgently needed is to widen all rivers throughout the city to prevent them bursting their banks. But this, Basuki pointed out, would mean evicting thousands of riverbank dwellers.

“Widening the rivers is something that we must do,” he said.

“We really have to man up and tell the people living along the riverbanks that they need to leave and we can’t show any leniency.”

Relocating riverbank dwellers has long been one of the most contentious policies for mitigating the impact of flooding in the capital with previous administrations facing stiff opposition to eviction proposals.

However, Basuki said the current administration’s plan was to move them into subsidized housing in the general areas where they lived now in order to minimize the disruption to their livelihoods.

“The governor doesn’t want to move them far from where they live now,” he said.

“If we were to relocate them to Cengkareng [in West Jakarta] or Marunda [in North Jakarta] we’d have to ensure they could make a new living in those areas.”

The rain it raineth

The perennial issue of flooding caused by constricted rivers bursting their banks came under the spotlight once again over the weekend, when heavy rains in Bogor caused the Ciliwung River to spill over. Nearly 2,500 homes in East and South Jakarta were reportedly inundated in up to three meters of water.

The problem was compounded by heavy downpours in the capital on Friday, Saturday and Monday that flooded key thoroughfares across the city and caused massive traffic congestion.

The street flooding has been blamed on clogged and non-fuctioning drains, as well as the inability of the city’s swollen rivers to channel away the rainwater runoff fast enough.

Experts warn that the situation could get much worse, with the rainy season expected to draw out until at least early February.

Harry Tirto, a spokesman for the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) , said the intensity of the rainfall was expected to increase heading into January.

“The Greater Jakarta area is only just entering the peak of the rainy season, which is expected to last a little longer than in previous years,” he said.

“Normally it would peak in December then quickly tail off but this time around we’re expecting the heavy rains to last until February.”

Nirwono Joga, an urban planning expert from Trisakti University, agreed that there was an urgent need to clear informal dwellings from riverbank areas and restore water catchment areas throughout the city.

“The most important thing is to revitalize the city’s rivers, for instance by widening some of them to 50 meters and adding another 50 meters of open green space on either bank,” he said.

“This way, there’s guaranteed to be no flooding because there won’t be any settlements clogging up the flow of the river.”

The city’s next order of business, he went on, would be to increase the proportion of open green space in the city to the government-mandated figure of 30 percent, from the current 10 percent.

“None of this will be easy, but if the administration works consistently and involves all stakeholders, there’s bound to be a way through.”

Drain drain

Yayat Supriatna, another urban planning expert, said a third item on the administration’s short-term checklist should be fixing the city’s drainage system.

“Each section of the drainage network is designed on a five-yearly basis but there’s never any maintenance done once that period is up,” he said.

“So automatically you get problems. All this time we blame the weather and the intensity of the rain, but it’s the drains that are unreliable. Some 60 to 70 percent of the drainage network doesn’t work properly, so of course you’re going to see some flooding when it rains.”

He also blamed the proliferation of buildings over water catchment areas as another reason for the scale of the flooding.

“The situation now is pretty bad. The urban sprawl is out of control. Because there are so many buildings, there’s less open ground to absorb all the runoff. So if it rains for just three hours, you can be sure there’ll be flooding,” Yayat said.

He called for a comprehensive program to tackle the problem, starting by widening and dredging the rivers, to overhauling the drainage system and allocating more space as water catchment areas.

Nirwono said another factor to the flooding problem was that residents continued to dump huge amounts of waste into the city’s rivers, canals and drains, thereby clogging them up and rendering them ineffective in channeling away rainwater runoff.

“The administration keeps telling people not to throw garbage into the waterways, but it doesn’t back this up by actually cleaning out the waterways, so the situation will never change,” he said.

Nirwono lauded Basuki’s proposal to hire trash pickers to clean up waste from the rivers, under a scheme that would see them earn the minimum wage of Rp 2.2 million ($225) a month.

While the proposal is still in the planning phase, Basuki has promised that it will be put into action early next year.

Public backlash

Analysts warn that if the administration fails to make tangible progress in dealing with the floods, it could face a public backlash that would erode the popularity that Joko and Basuki enjoyed when they came into office in mid-October.

Adjie, a researcher with the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) , said the administration could face a public backlash in as little as a year if it failed to take concrete steps on the flood issue.

“At this point most people believe that Joko has the problem under control, but Jakarta residents are not as patient as residents of Solo,” he said, referring to the West Java city where Joko previously served as mayor.

“So whatever policies he employs, they have to be concrete and there has to be a sense that they’re being carried out.”

Agus Pambagio, a public policy expert from the University of Indonesia, said Joko had got carried away by his own popularity and focused too much on his regular community visits, at the expense of hashing out concrete programs on flooding, traffic congestion and other problems.

“He’s become a media darling whose every move is reported on, with supporters who will not stand for any criticism of him,” Agus said.

“It’s too early to judge his performance to date. We can only do that in a year or two, but a key part of his campaign was that he would hit the ground running on issues like flooding, so he’s got to take some heat for not keeping that promise.”

He added he had seen “no real action” by the administration to tackle flooding, and urged the governor to cut back on the community meet-and-greets and spend more time implementing real policies.