Arientha Primanita, Ulma Haryanto & Zaky Pawas
Jakarta. Blame it on the rain? That’s what the administration wants to do, but critics say Monday evening’s traffic hell ultimately had more to do with a poor drainage system and residents’ waste-disposal habits.
Torrential rains throughout Monday afternoon and evening caused some of the worst traffic congestion ever seen in the city as entire roads were rendered impassable due to flooding.
On Tuesday, Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo said the intensity of the rain — 100 millimeters in three hours — was the reason for the mess.
“The rain on Monday was extraordinary,” he said. “I ask the people for understanding. The rain wasn’t my fault, and it was heavy.”
He also blamed climate change for recent waves of unpredictable weather.
Experts, however, have pointed their fingers squarely at the state of drains across the capital.
Ery Basworo, the head of the city’s Public Works Office, said only 20 percent of Jakarta’s drains worked, while the other 80 percent were clogged with garbage, mud and utility cables.
Yayat Supriyatna, an urban planning expert from Jakarta’s Trisakti University, said the flooding was the result of chaotic spatial planning and non-functioning drains.
“If a city’s spatial planning is well-organized, there wouldn’t be disasters such as floods,” he said. “So if a city is paralyzed by flooding, then there’s something wrong with that city.”
He said that with 92 percent of the land area in Jakarta already developed, there were few spaces left to serve as water catchment areas.
He also pointed out that the city’s drainage system was 20 years old and poorly maintained, with some open drains having been closed over to allow developers to construct buildings above them.
Yayat called on the city administration to allow the central government to help resolve this and other problems plaguing the capital.
He also said residents needed to change their attitude toward disposing waste.
“The people help worsen the situation,” he said.
“Jakartans tend to abuse nature. They clog up the drains with their garbage, and sometimes even close them off with concrete. So it’s the cumulative effect from developers, residents and the administration.”
He called for a campaign to educate residents not to throw their trash into drains.
“People should start at home by adopting responsible waste management or simply cleaning out the drains in front of their homes,” he said.
Gunawan Tjahjono, an urban planning expert from the University of Indonesia, said the city should conduct an audit of its drainage network to optimize it.
“All assumptions about Jakarta’s drainage system should be re-evaluated,” he said. “It’s not as straightforward as we used to think, because property developments in Jakarta have been extreme and we’ve taken over a lot of land, so there are no more water catchment areas.”
“This city is drowning.”
Gunawan also stressed the need to consider external factors into any redesign of the drainage system.
“We need to consider the geology and topography in the map of the city’s plumbing, and see the whole city as one big system,” he said. “Revitalization or reconstruction of the drainage system should not be sporadic.”
He also said it was time for residents to be more aware of their impact on the capital.
“Urban society is growing, but it has neglected the environment,” he said.
“People pave the earth in concrete, which prevents rainwater absorption. They have to realize they’re burdening the city and the administration. People shouldn’t just complain.”