Indonesia: Jakarta, Semarang on the brink of ecological disasters

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 2 Feb 17;

The people and the environment in Jakarta and Semarang are not resilient enough to withstand ecological disasters due to the impact of a series of reclamation projects in the cities, according to a recent study.

Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI) researcher Henny Warsilah recently measured the resilience of three major coastal cities in Java: Jakarta, Semarang and Surabaya.

The Paris I-Sorbonne University graduate concluded that out of the three cities, only Surabaya had built enough resilience, both environmentally and socially.

Jakarta and Semarang, she said, were not doing very well.

Semarang, the fourth largest city on Java after Jakarta, Surabaya and Bandung, has ongoing reclamation projects in the northern part of the city, which threaten to submerge entire neighborhoods in the next 20 years.

“Semarang is undergoing rapid expansion with reclamation, while it is predicted that the city will sink in the next 20 years.

The more it is expanded, the more land will subside because the region is a former volcanic eruption zone, and it is a swamp area. With the progression of the reclamation projects, the land is not strong enough to withstand the pressure,” said Henny.

As a coastal city, Semarang’s most pressing concerns are about water. In recent years, the impact of floods has multiplied due to the rising sea level, coastal erosion and land subsidence.

In 1995, tidal floods reached the city up to about 500 meters inland. Currently, high tide reaches points as far as 5 kilometers from the coast, even flooding the city’s historic colonial-era Kota Tua (old town).

Besides flooding, social problems have also started to escalate in the city due to increasing ecological pressure.

“Besides ecological destruction, social problems have started to arise. People with low-incomes have to dredge their land with plastic waste because they have no money. Therefore, plastic waste is all over the place because there are no landfills,” Henny said.

Jakarta, where large sections of the city are already below sea level, will also suffer from reclamation projects.

The controversial Jakarta Bay reclamation project is predicted to cause severe floods as it could hamper water flow from 13 rivers to the Jakarta Bay.

The reclamation project, which will develop 17 man-made islands, is also predicted to increase Jakarta’s ecological burden as it would attract an additional 600,000 people living on the islets. “Right now, North Jakarta’s land is already subsiding 10 centimeters per month. This will surely continue, and we will sink underwater in the future,” said Henny.

Despite opposition from environmental activists and fishing communities, Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama has persisted with the project, saying that it will solve land problems in the city and will profit the administration.

“North Jakarta is more severe as there are 17,000 fisherfolk who are threatened with being evicted and marginalized. It’s because the infrastructure development does not coincide with the development of people’s welfare,” said Henny.

She said that when reclamation was planned, the fisherfolk affected by the project should have been involved in the discussion. “But that was not the case. In the end, people felt marginalized. They can no longer fish because of the construction of the islets,” Henny said.

Meanwhile, the Surabaya administration has been doing the opposite, she said. “Surabaya should be the example [of how to build a resilient city] because its reclamation project doesn’t evict people. The people were only relocated 200 to 300 meters from the shore line,” Henny said, citing the reclamation project in Kenjeran, North Surabaya.

She said the reclamation project made sure that people living in the fishing village of Kenjeran became the center of the development.

“Their houses were painted. The people there were not marginalized. Instead, they were incorporated in the development process,” Henny said.

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