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Blame game begins as Jakarta goes “down under”

Updated On: Feb 06, 2007

Indonesia's capital is under a state of emergency as floods, caused by heavy rainfall and poorly-planned drainage system, extended to around 70% of Jakarta’s area.

The floods also affected those in Bogor and Greater Jakarta area (Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi). Death toll has increased to 20 and 200,000 became homeless.  Daily activities have almost grind to a halt with transportation chaos, troubled telecommunication networks, power supply cuts and held up deliveries.

The flooding on Friday and Saturday, brought back memories of the massive floods of 2002 that affected hundreds of thousands of people. In 2002 at least 13 people were killed, the city suffered about US$44 million in damages and some 18,000 people were affected by a diarrhea epidemic. Reported to be even more severe than those in 2002, this year's flood will likely lead to more fatalities and damage. Rupiah exchange rate against US dollar is weakened on Monday's transaction. The depreciation is due to the disruption in economic activities after flooding in the last four days.

About 50 years ago, Jakarta was mostly covered by swamplands. Naturally, Jakarta is vulnerable to floods. Around 40% of Jakarta City area has the same elevation as sea surface. Even without any settlements, Jakarta would still suffer from flooding, including the five-year periodical one like what is happening now. This was expressed by a hydrologist from Council of Sundanese Forestry and Environment Watch (DPKLTS), Soepardijono Sobirin. This is worsened by partial drainage management. There appears to be no synergy among drainage systems in the settlements. The water will be retained in certain area without possibility to be flushed out.

Heavy rainfall during the first months of the year is usual and floods have become a normal phenomenon for those living in certain areas of Jakarta. The five-year periodical extreme rainfall has also been predicted by Meteorology and Geophysics Agency. But the government has not taken concrete actions to prevent the floods from wreaking such extensive havoc.  

As usual, after the severe flooding, the government officials tend to blame each other. The development in drainage basin appears to be the main culprit behind this year's flooding. Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso placed the blame on villas in Puncak, West Java, while State Minister for the Environment Rachmat Witoelar insisted the floods were caused by excessive development in the city's water catchment areas. Local authorities had been overzealous in issuing building permits. There is no proper city spatial plan and environmental impact assessment carried out for new building development.

The floods would not have been this bad if Jakarta still maintains its drainage basin. The local government, tempted by high tax and revenue from the growing property and commercial sectors, has issued dozen of permits for shopping centers and apartments.

Sutiyoso put the blame on the environmental damage in Bogor. Too many luxurious villas in the water catchment area in Puncak have caused the downpour to run straight into the river.

Jakarta, being fed by 13 rivers, which originated in West Java, depends on its surrounding area to supply its water. To resolve the annual problem, Jakarta has to cooperate with other provinces. Water supply and drainage should be managed across the administrative boundaries. The megacity plan which will integrate Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Tangerang, Bekasi, Puncak and parts of Cianjur is the key to prevent the same old story in the years to come.

However, the capability of the government to tackle the problem is questioned and criticized for being inadequate and disappointing. A member of parliament accused the Jakarta provincial government for “criminal negligence” for not being able to prevent its citizens suffering from economic and health loss.

Sources:

JakartaDarurat: Banjir Kiriman dari Bogor Lumpuhkan Sejumlah Kawasan, (Tempo Interaktif, 4 February 2007)

Floods kills 20, leaves 200,000 homeless, reports say (Jakarta Post, 4 February 2007)

After the flooding the blame game begins  (Jakarta Post, 4 February 2007)

Many areas in Jakarta hit by floods, activities halted (Jakarta Post, 3 February 2007)

Jakarta paralyzed, again (Jakarta Post, 3 February 2007)

Perilaku Manusia Tingkatkan Potensi Banjir, Kompas, (3 February 2007)

BMG: Cuaca Buruk Hingga 7 Februari, (Tempo Interaktif, 5 February 2007)

Telecom network disrupted by floods  (Jakarta Post, 4 February 2007)

Pemadaman listrik di Jakarta meluas (Antara News, 4 February 2007)

Biarkan rakyat menderita, Pemprov DKI layak disebut criminal  (Antara News, 4 February 2007)

Rupiah melemah akibat terganggunya aktivitas ekonomi (Antara News, 4 February 2007)