Indonesia: Time to ‘evacuate low-lying areas’ in Jakarta

The Jakarta Post 24 Nov 11;

City planning experts have called on the Jakarta government to immediately evacuate low-lying areas in the city’s northern coastal region, saying that it could no longer sustain human settlement.

An expert on coastal area management from Yogyakarta-based Gadjah Mada University, Muhammad Aris Marfai, said on Thursday that areas like Penjaringan, Muara Angke and Tanjung Priok would continually be inundated by the rising sea water and could no longer sustain human activities.

“Conditions in North Jakarta are deteriorating quickly. Ideally, these areas should not be inhabited anymore,” Aris said on the sideline of the World Delta Summit at the Jakarta International Convention Center.

He said the massive use of land for industrial and residential purposes had significantly reduced the size of water catchment areas in the region. “Coupled with climate change, which triggers the rise of the sea level, the high precipitation, this all worsens flooding in the area,” he said.

With so many settlements in the area, the cost of flooding could be very high.

“The economic cost of flooding as well as potentials for the loss of life are higher in densely populated areas,” he said.

Philip J. Ward, a researcher with the Amsterdam-based Institute for Environmental Studies of Vrei University said that Jakarta could learn from cities in the Netherlands that have relocated residents from low-lying areas.

“Basically, Jakarta is just like Amsterdam or Rotterdam. Floods come to Amsterdam and Rotterdam but we rarely experience life loss because we don’t have people living in the flood-prone places,” he said.

Ward said that the city government could convert the abandoned land into farmland. “[Farms] are more adaptive to floods and have less impact,” he said.

Aris, however, warned that moving residents from low-lying areas was not an easy job.

“We have too complicated social networks in those areas. To move people from there is almost impossible,” he said.

He said that the only course of action the city government could take was to prepare the residents to deal with regular flooding.

He said that houses in flood-prone areas should have higher foundations. The areas should also have good drainage systems. “The government should educate people about early warning systems and disaster mitigation,” he said.

Philip said that in Rotterdam, residents who live in the low-lying areas had already prepared themselves for flooding. “They commonly have two-floor houses. They don’t put expensive and vulnerable furniture on the first floor and they set up an emergency kitchen on the second floor,” he said.

Jakarta is situated in a low and flat basin, with 40 percent of its area located below sea level. With a 4.38 mm increase in sea level each year, predictions say that areas in North Jakarta will be inundated in 2030.

Aris said that the prediction could materialize if the city administration failed to take action.

He said that the city administration so far has done a good job in preventive measures, including the project on the West Flood Canal as well as the widening and dredging of major rivers such as the Pesanggrahan and Sunter Rivers in North Jakarta.

“But we haven’t seen the result. Sometimes the problem concerns the city’s lack of consistency in implementing what they have planned,” he said.

Aris said that the public could measure the success of the city’s flood mitigation project early next year. “Next year, we expect to have five-year cycle flooding. I hope the city prepares itself better than it was five years ago,” he said. (lfr)