SINGAPORE: Every rainy season, neighbourhoods in Indonesias capital bear witness to major floods.
Over the years, however, the places affected have expanded and in some areas, have seen higher levels of flooding.
Jakarta has been hit again by flash floods of torrential rain on New Year's eve.
This time, about 158 urban communities (kelurahan) in Jakarta experienced flooding, according to the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB). Besides Jakarta, the floods also hit surrounding areas, such as Bekasi, Tangerang, South Tangerang and Lebak.
The floods have caused electricity shutdowns and displacement of many. The death toll has reached at least 60 in the Greater Jakarta area and Lebak, according to the BNPB, owing to drowning, hypothermia and electrocution.
About 173,000 people from almost 40,000 households, were evacuated. Many offices and shops were forced to close. The domestic Halim Perdanakusuma Airport was forced to shut down.
A PROBLEM FOR MORE THAN A DECADE
Flooding has been a perennial problem for Jakarta for several decades. Despite various measures to deal with this annual disaster, flooding in the city has become more frequent and severe.
In 2007, the flood affected more than 70 per cent of the capital, leaving more than 400,000 people displaced and killing more than 60 people.
It was the worst flood to hit Jakarta for decades. Water levels in some areas reached 4m and racked up an estimated economic loss of anywhere from 8.2 trillion rupiah (US$900 million) to 21 trillion rupiah. That year, insurance claims jumped to 1.2 trillion rupiah.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo understands how serious flooding is. During his tenure as Jakarta Governor, in 2013, the city experienced extremely heavy rains and a tidal wave that reduced the capital to a giant pond, with water levels in several areas reaching 2 to 5m.
The flood damaged 97,000 houses, affected 250,000 people, and cost the city 4.4 trillion rupiah, according to World Bank estimates.
The city was hit three times by floods the following year in 2014, including in the typically dry month of May.
More recently, greater Jakarta experienced more occurrences of flooding, with 46 cases, of more than 15,000 people were displaced in 2018.
The floods have worsened this time around, affecting not only suburban Jakarta but also downtown Jakarta where waters have reached 2 to 6m high.
Residents are holding their breath. Jakarta is poised for further heavy rainfall until the monsoon ends in April.
WORSENED BY SINKING
Theres no doubt factors beyond human control including extreme weather conditions brought about by climate change, cyclical tidal waves and the seasonal monsoon have exacerbated flooding in Jakarta.
But human factors – including the destruction of the ecosystem due to deforestation, poor urban planning including the unchecked construction of settlements around the Ciliwung riverbank, and dismal garbage disposal choking up the riverbank and gutters around the city – have aggravated its effects.
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Moreover, Jakarta is the fastest sinking city in the world, sinking about 5 to 10cm annually, and up to 25cm a year in some places. Half of the city now sits below sea level.
The problem has been worsened by an overextraction of groundwater owing to the citys rapid construction and a delay in the development of water and sewage systems.
The combination of these factors is amplifying the impact of freak floods each year.
Without an effective solution, experts have said the city could be entirely submerged by 2050. Economists estimate losses of 36 trillion rupiah in 2027, according to a study conducted by researchers from Bandung Institute of Technology.
MUSTERING UP POLITICAL WILL
A comprehensive solution to this enormous challenge has thus far eluded central and regional authorities, who differ on how best to manage flooding in the city, which sits on the Ciliwung river facing the Java Sea.
A lack of consensus and poor coordination between government programmes have plagued the problem.
While Indonesian authorities have pressed on with works on the Ciawi and Sukamahi dams to reduce the upstream risk of floods in Jakarta, Bogor, Depok and Bekasi, efforts can be better focused on tackling the challenges downstream.