Flooding routine for Jakarta residents

Fifty-year-old Sudarti cannot remember how many times she has had to flee her tiny, rented house as flood waters surged above the banks of the nearby Krukut river in Karet Tengsin village in central Jakarta.

“At least five times a year, maybe more. Every time it rains all night, or all day, we have to run,” says the housewife in her two metre-wide home.

In early February, unusually heavy rains meant the water reached up to the first floor of the tiny, two-room row houses in this poor district of Indonesia’s capital.

Sudarti (like many Indonesians, she uses a single name) had to swim through neck-high water, dodging benches, motorbikes and other household goods, while remaining vigilant against the risk of electrocution by downed electrical wires.

While the floods caused some illness, particularly cases of diarrhoea, the worst effect is economic. Everyone in this poor community of cleaners, builders, traders and motor-cycle drivers told IRIN they lose precious goods and potential income.

“We lose at least 40,000Rp [about US$4.20] every day, because my husband can’t look for work, he has to help me evacuate,” said Ratna Dewi, a housewife in Karet Tengsin.

''At least five times a year, maybe more. Every time it rains all night, or all day, we have to run.''

It was not just the urban poor who have been affected by the torrential rains. The massive floods turned Jakarta’s main thoroughfare, Jalan Sudirman, into a river, and blocked the airport toll road, leaving thousands of people stranded in cars and buses.

Authorities claim the flooding was caused by a combination of factors - unusually high rainfall, rapid urbanisation, which has drastically reduced the amount of green space capable of absorbing excess water, tidal waves and an inadequate drainage system.

More floods expected

Flood waters in Jakarta have subsided for the moment, although experts from the government meteorology office warn that more floods could deluge Jakarta, with monsoon rains expected to last for at least a few more weeks. Elsewhere across Indonesia, continued heavy rains and flooding have killed 11 people in the past week alone.

“The intensity of the rain was very extreme in early February; usually we see this kind of rainfall over one month, but this happened in one day,” said Andes Sudarhono, head of the Meteorology Agency’s natural disaster unit for West Java and Sumatra provinces.

The cause of this exceptionally high rainfall is “climate change; most of our research on this is pointing to climate change”, said Andes.

Photo: Marianne Kearney/IRIN
Dozens of tiny makeshift houses - which line this narrow alleyway in Karet Tengsin next to Krukut River in central Jakarta - were flooded last month after a day of heavy rain

Rapid urbanisation

Andes also blames rapid urbanisation. Too many housing complexes have been built in designated green spaces and catchment basins surrounding dams and rivers. In coastal North Jakarta, a combination of unusually high tides and the sinking of the city, which has dropped 40cm in just less than two decades, as well as heavy rain, has caused intermittent flooding for the past two months, he said.

“Every time there is a high tide now it can flood northern Jakarta,” he said, adding that Jakarta’s sinking meant the effects of the high tides was magnified.

Government action

In the days after the floods, Jakarta’s governor, Fauzi Bowo, announced that his government would complete the construction of the East Flood Canal by 2010. Work on the canal, which would direct water from Jakarta’s main rivers out to sea, was begun in the aftermath of the devastating 2002 floods, which killed dozens of people. But a combination of land disputes and lack of funds has delayed the project.

In addition, Fauzi vowed to expand green areas surrounding river basins, as well as increase the capacity of dams that supply the city with water. However, he warned that it would not be cheap, costing an estimated $182 million, and he has appealed to the central government for funds.

In the interim, serious flooding is expected to continue and the government and humanitarian community have begun educating residents on how best to cope. This includes disaster drills run by the Indonesian Red Cross, the International Federation of the Red Cross, the National Search and Rescue Agency, the police, military and navy, to prepare coastal residents for the next tidal surge.