Lenny Tristia Tambun, SP/Hotman Siregar & SP/Edi Hardum
Administrations past and present have between them spent hundreds of billions of rupiah to prepare for floods, but yet again on Thursday, Jakarta — usually a symbol of power and progress in Indonesia — was left crippled by rain.
Thursday’s flood in Jakarta left many people unable to come to work when traffic came to a standstill for hours. In some areas, roads turned into impenetrable pools of brownish water, infested with disease and sewage.
Thousands were displaced from their homes and at least nine people were killed as water reached heights of up to three meters. Flooding this year not only affected communities in riverbanks but also struck at the heart of Jakarta’s business districts and even hit the center of power: the State Palace.
“We are nearing high tides. If heavy rains continue to hit Jakarta, the upstream areas of Jakarta will drown for sure,” Firdaus Ali, executive director of the Indonesian Water Institute, said on Thursday.
Other analysts said the government needed to see the problem more comprehensively, adding that the reasons for the flooding were interconnected.
“The scope and problems [causing] the floods in Jakarta continue to increase. Aside from the natural factors, it’s also contributed to by anthropogenic [man-made] factors,” National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said recently.
At the heart of the problem is the city’s failure to keep up with the growing population and burgeoning economy, increasing volume of catchment areas converted into housing areas. “The solution is proper management. We can learn much from neighboring countries,” Trisakti University urban planning expert Yayat Supriyatna said on Thursday.
The problem is especially true for the upstream area of Puncak, the mountainous region of West Java that is the site of holiday homes for many of Jakarta’s rich and powerful, Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) researcher Ernan Rustiadi said recently.
Further downstream, the exploitation of ground water to meet Jakartans demand for water has led to a rapid rate of subsidence, estimated at 10 to 20 centimeters per year. Data from the city government has shown that the ground level in some parts of North Jakarta has fallen by 4.1 meters.
The city uses 532 million cubic meters of ground water per year, or 46 percent of known supply, according to the Indonesian Green Institute. It is replenished at a much slower rate.
But the government has shied away from issuing tough regulations to reduce the problem. Instead, policy makers seem more inclined toward mega projects, such as constructing canals and dams, as well as restoring infrastructure damaged by floods.
Thursday’s flood brings into question whether the infrastructure projects were properly maintained or were adequate to keep up with the increasing volume of water flowing into Jakarta’s main waterways.
On Thursday, the West Flood Canal, which stretches from Manggarai in South Jakarta to the Pluit reservoir in North Jakarta, burst, inundating much of the commercial district along Central and South Jakarta’s Jalan Thamrin and Jalan Sudirman.
The Rp 4.9 trillion ($508 million) East Flood Canal also failed to do its work as areas in East and North Jakarta were also affected by floods.
Nirwono Yoga, another expert from Trisakti University, said Jakarta must first prioritize reclaiming areas that were earlier designated as catchment but converted for housing or commerce.
Governor Joko Widodo last month said his administration’s plans to double the amount of open green space in the capital hinge on three major projects this year.
Joko said he wanted to dedicate at least 20 percent of the city’s total area to open green space during his first term in office, up from the current figure of just 9.8 percent.
But Nirwono said there must be a dedicated team to inspect whether this target is met. “There must be an RTH auditing team, particularly for RTH in private buildings and business centers,” he said.
The expert said the government must also normalize the flow of all 13 major rivers across Jakarta. Human settlements have encroached on the waterways, narrowing it to a width of 20 to 30 meters from the original 100 meters.
A budget of Rp 2.3 trillion for 2011 to 2014 has been set to dredge the Pesanggrahan, Angke and Sunter rivers. Similarly, the Jakarta Emergency Dredging Initiative for the Cengkareng Drain, Sunter River, West Flood Canal, Cideng River, Angke River and others run from 2013 to 2014.
Joko is also pushing for the construction of a multipurpose deep tunnel. The tunnel is modeled after Malaysia’s Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel, which has eased floods and traffic congestion in Kuala Lumpur.
The planned Jakarta tunnel is 19 kilometers long and will stretch from Cawang in the city’s southeast to Pluit in the north. It is estimated to cost about Rp 16 trillion.
But Nirwono said the government only needs to revitalize the many existing dams and reservoirs and overcome rising sediments and encroachment of illegal settlements.