Jakarta faces future after floods
Correspondents Report – Sunday, 11 February , 2007
Reporter: Geoff Thompson
ELIZABETH JACKSON: Last week Indonesia’s capital Jakarta was hit by the worst flooding in recent memory, which killed about 60 people and displaced hundreds of thousands of others.
While the total economic impact of the disaster is creeping towards $1 billion, most of the victims are uninsured and facing the threat of deadly waterborne diseases.
Now questions are being raised about the very viability of Jakarta’s future, as our Indonesia Correspondent, Geoff Thompson, reports.
(Sound of people speaking)
GEOFF THOMPSON: Next to a slum in West Jakarta, under blue tarpaulins in a muddy vacant lot, a dozen women prepare parcels of chicken curry with rice, for 3,000 people every day.
Those hungry humans have been praying that the flood’s peak has passed, but even without more rain there’s no certain end to the misery still facing hundreds of thousands of Jakartans.
Known as Cengkareng, this slum is still 20 per cent underwater. A week ago nearly all of the single storey dwellings here were submerged.
When Jakarta last filled up like this, five years ago, it was the slum areas around the bursting rivers which were most affected. Some wealthy areas had a little water, but mostly, as so often with Indonesia’s disasters, it was predominantly a problem for the poor.
The difference this time is that rich suburbs like Kelapa Gading in the north and Kemang in the south, succumbed to the deluge too.
Jakarta’s Governor, Sutiyoso, blames the disaster on what he calls “a cyclical five-yearly natural phenomenon”. Whatever the truth of that claim, Sutiyoso was also in power back then in 2002, when the last flood occurred.
US President George W. Bush’s popularity dropped when New Orleans was left unprepared for the assault of Hurricane Katrina after years of warnings. Governor Sutiyoso had a warning five years long.
But Sutiyoso doesn’t have to worry about re-election. He’s not eligible to run again later this year. Even so, political parties seeking control of the capital, like the conservative Islamic Prosperous Justice Party, PKS, have pounced on the political opportunity the disaster offers by sending thousands of its faithful out to help with flood relief at more than 150 posts around the city.
And then there’s the National Awakening Party, the third largest party in Indonesia’s Parliament, led by Muhaimin Iskandar. He’s called for Jakarta to be moved altogether, away from the low-lying marshland and 13 intersecting rivers from which it grew out of the old Dutch port of Batavia.
That idea hasn’t caught on yet, but it has raised the very real question of whether Jakarta is sustainable as a functioning capital for a nation of 220 million when issues of development, corruption, natural phenomena and cheap cars keep on colliding.
Since the Asian economic crisis, development has been rampant in water catchment areas. Indonesia’s Consumer Protection Institute says current regulations say that 27 per cent of Jakarta should be reserved for development-free green spaces, but only nine per cent actually is.
And a 2005 survey found that the number of vehicles in Jakarta was increasing by 269 cars and 1,025 motorcycles every day.
New busways are relieving some of the commuter load, but also occupy traffic lanes, compounding the crush. A monorail is being built, but urban planners say it won’t come close to fulfilling the mass transit needs of the capital and its nine million plus residents. It’s small and symbolic like Sydney’s, not big and effective like Bangkok’s.
Is anything going to change in Jakarta before more scores of people die and hundreds of thousands more are displaced when this “cyclical five-yearly natural phenomenon” returns in 2012, if not sooner?
Well, some things will. There’ll be more cars and more buildings and a new governor to face the consequences. And by then, rather than begrudgingly accepting their lot, the people of a not so newly democratic Indonesia may begin demanding results from their elected leaders.
In Jakarta, this is Geoff Thompson for Correspondents Report.