Indonesia's Coast: Overpopulated and Underwater

Collection with 25 media items created by Elisabetta Zavoli

Indonesia 01 Feb 2014 16:12

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) report, released in October 2013, predicted global temperatures would rise 0.3 to 4.8 degrees Celsius this century. Seas will creep up by 26 to 82 centimeters by 2100. If no countermeasures are taken, "hundreds of millions" of coastal dwellers will be displaced by 2100. Small-island states and East, Southeast and South Asia will lose the most land. Among them, Jakarta is one of the cities in the world most vulnerable to flood losses because of growing population, climate change and subsidence.

The first thing that strikes you in Jakarta is the deadly traffic: motorbikes, cars, and rusted minibuses careen day and night through the streets of this messy megacity. Journeying across Jakarta means spending hours even for short distances in an unbreathable air. The second thing that strikes is the lack of a sewage system and wastewater treatment: along roadside, exposed or covered, ditches run in order to collect wastewater and sewage from homes, offices, commercial and industrial activities, which then pour into the waterways across the city. When wastewater reaches the coast it is black and polluted. A dreadful odor envelops Muara Angke’s slum, a community of poor fishermen families settled on the coastline, building their shacks on the waste from the processing of mussels.

Greater Jakarta is a delta city of more than 10 million people, crossed by 13 rivers and hundreds of canals. It is estimated that about 2 million people commute to downtown Jakarta from the suburbs every day. The metropolitan area of Jakarta is the second largest megacity in the world (after Tokyo-Yokohama area), home of an estimated population of more than 26 million, comprising the satellite cities of Tangerang, Depok, Bekasi and Bogor.

This year’s release of demographics of largest urban areas in the world (Demographia World Urban Area) shows that the population growth of Jakarta was 34,6% for the decade 2000-2010, ranking it in the top 10 world’s fastest-growing megacities.

Now, together with pollution and population growth, also climate change is a threat to Jakarta inhabitants. Coastline areas like Muara Angke, Pluit, Tanjung Priok are mainly covered by slums and regularly suffer of seasonal floods, monthly high tides, and rising of sea level. The shacks lack of any sort of protection against high water from the sea or floods from the maze of waterways that cut through the city. Jakarta was benefiting from a natural protection in the mangrove forests bordering the town, but these have gone lost. Mangroves have been reduced to a few narrow strips along the seaward, and are under continuous attack from pollutants and garbage. It is all about the missing mangrove forests, then.

Jakarta, West Java, and Banten mangrove forests occupied 44,453 hectares in 1996-1998, but were drastically reduced to 11,370 hectares in 2009. Today only 300 hectares of forest remains in Jakarta. Moreover, the north reservoirs, which should receive the water flooding from rivers and canals, are surrounded by slums as well. In fact, slums are replacing the role of mangroves as they are acting as a sort of urban, inhabited, and suffering buffer to the floods.

In Jakarta the sea is rising rapidly, but no displacement is occurring – could humans be a cheap way to mitigate sea level rise? Locals are getting used to have their shelters inundated. That is one of the prices that illegal immigrants have to pay when choosing to migrate from their village to Jakarta. This is the case, fore example of Maria, 30, and her husband, who migrated from a village in central Java four years ago. He is a minibus driver, and their baby was born just two weeks after the huge flood of January 2013. Their house is on the decaying banks of the Ciliwung river in the Rawajati subdistrict, and when the water rose, it was fully submersed by water and mud up to 4 meters.

“My pregnancy was at the end when I had to leave my house because it completely flooded. I may have returned only a few days after my baby was born. No one helped to clean or cared to know whether we were dead or if we needed any help”.

Maria’s story is not a one-off case. According to “Jakarta in Figure”, published in 2009, population living in poverty should count around 340,000. This is a conservative figure, though, as more than 20% of total settlements in Jakarta are in slum areas and there is a substantial percentage of illegally settled immigrants. The number of poor people might be far beyond that official number. These poor people usually work in informal sectors such as drivers, ojek (motorbike taxi), scavengers, navvies and so on.

Slum areas occupy chiefly river banks, like those on the Ciliwung. The shanties weaken the riverbanks and people live in very poor condition, with inadequate infrastructures, in unhealthy environment, and low accessibility to basic needs. They use the river water not only as sewage but as shower or for washing clothes. Ciliwung river is one of the city’s waterways most affected by floods: due to this illegal residential development, it has no overflow basins, and so flood enters directly inside the poor houses on its banks.

A typical modern and fast growing Asian city, Jakarta displays the contrasting bright glass-covered exclusive and luxury apartments, separated by no more than a crumbling wall from informal settlements. Elites and basic housing are there, side by side. Indonesia is the Southeast Asia’s largest economy with a growth of 6.5% (2011) and Jakarta is the biggest economic hub of the country, counting alone for the 7% of Indonesian GDP. Most of housing supply is targeted to rich people making the market of gated community and elite apartments increasing.

The exclusivity of this community is among the causes for the widening of the social segregation: giant towers and new luxury malls stand in the city amidst terrible poverty. Over the years, the policy makers of Jakarta have responded to increasing house demand by converting green areas and wetlands into residential, commercial, and industrial areas. In 1965, green areas still covered more than 35% of the total city area, but currently there is only 9.3% of green areas left. This happens despite in the regulated law provinces of Indonesia are required to have 30% green areas.

The more the town grows towards the sky, the more it sinks because of land subsidence. This chaotic and high density urban development is affecting also the uncontrolled use of ground water for household and industrial purposes, which is one major responsible of the subsidence of Jakarta, now displaying an impressive 10 cm per year rate of subsidence. As seawater underground intrusion grows in and around the capital, it is foreseen that in 10 to 15 years Jakarta will face groundwater scarcity.

Would all this not be enough to generate uncertainties around the fate of the town, today there is the climate threat. Currently, the Jakarta Capital City Government doesn’t have a policy specifically tailored to climate change, however they do have policies on disaster mitigation. Thus, after the disastrous flood of January 2013, which was caused losses of more than 4.3 trillion Indonesian Rupees, displacement of more than 100,000 people, and the death of 26, the Government has begun to clean illegal settlements on riverbanks and around the north reservoirs, moving people to new popular housing.

This is far from bringing a solution to the challenges that the megacity is facing. As stated in an article on Nature Magazine: “failing to adapt is not a viable option in coastal cities. The estimated adaptation costs are far below the estimate of aggregate damage losses per year, in the absence of adaptation”. The warn is there, how Indonesians will cope with the many challenges their capital is facing, is still an open question.

Not so different is the situation of other settlements on Java northern coast. Semarang, in central Java, is one of the biggest ports on the main Indonesia’s island. Here, the high tide’s ingression was already well known by the Dutch, who have been built a system of polders to protect the city. Yet, today that system is inadequate and the ROB, as it is called in the local language, has reached critical dimensions: started in 1995, the measurements reported flood only in the port area up to 500 meters from the coastline. Today, the high tide enters up to 5 km from the coastline, also flooding the old Dutch center. With a proven subsidence of 6 to 7 cm per year to "strengthen" the effect of rising sea level, entire neighborhoods are doomed to sink completely in the next 15 to 20 years.

Here, “adaptation” to climate change is taking an unpredicted path: the tidal flood is so fast (in three hours the water rises from the bottom up to 30 to 40 cm, in some areas daily in other areas two or three times per week) that in the last 30 years those who could lifted up the house. The poorest were just able to fill the flooded floor with rocks and sand – in short, burying their own house.

Indonesia Jakarta Flooding Water Sea Sea Level Environment Overpopulation Risk Economy Migration Urban Poor

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Title photo for the collection
Indonesia floods 01
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
05 Jul 2013

A woman and her daughter stand in the black and highly polluted sea water in front of "Muara Angke" district, north Jakarta. This district, one of the poorest in the city, is home to a community of fishermen whose shacks lie on top of mussel processing waste and garbage brought in by the rivers running through the capital. This area is heavily affected by seasonal floods and monthly high tides.

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Indonesia floods 02
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
05 Jul 2013

Some kids are playing with a pair of pigeons in the slums of "Muara Angke" district, North Jakarta. In the background, luxurious palaces are being built on the new area of coastal ​​residential development "Pantai Mutiara", in the close neighborhood Pluit. The Government of the capital city is seeking funding for an ambitious project intended to build new "residential islands" in the sea off the northern coast which would worsen the already high subsidence of this part of town.

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Indonesia floods 03
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
29 Jun 2013

Advisory panel about new projects of luxury housing on the north coast, in Kapuk district. The choice to change the use of shallow coastal zones, in order to meet demand from the growing population, will deeply affect tides and will accelerate the subsidence of which this part of the town is already suffering.

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Indonesia floods 04
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
25 Jan 2013

View of the Pluit reservoir from inside a social housing which has been used as temporary shelter for people living in the surrounding flooded shacks. The reservoir has a great importance in order to collect the water coming from rivers and canals. For this reason, after the catastrophic flooding of January 2013, the Administration of Jakarta has begun the removal of the shacks on its embankments.

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Indonesia floods 05
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
23 Jan 2013

"Pluit" district, one of the most crowded slums in north Jakarta, has been flooded in January 2013. Waters were up to 2 m high at the emergency peak. It was estimated that the flood had overall caused total losses of more than 4.3 trillion Indonesian Rupees, more than 100000 people displaced and 26 people died.

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Indonesia floods 06
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
27 Jan 2013

A woman and her daughter are looking through the front window of their hut in front of the Java sea, in "Muara Angke" district, north Jakarta. Every month, they face the high tide coming inside the hut which is only 10 meters from the sea shore and there is no protection other than a low wall of wooden planks.

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Indonesia floods 07
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
09 May 2013

A grey monkey is looking for food among garbage inside "Hutan Wisata Kamal Muara", 99 hectares, Kapuk district, which is one of the few areas of pristine mangrove forests of Jakarta. This area is part of the city’s mangroves' green belt (total 330 hectares) and it is highly polluted by the waste coming down along rivers and canals.

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Indonesia floods 08
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
27 Jan 2013

Women from Kapuk-Muara district, north Jakarta, are queuing for clear water supply from Indonesian Red Cross' tank. The supply of drinking water has been the major emergency during the flood, causing the spread of gastrointestinal infections, especially in children.

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Indonesia floods 09
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
03 Dec 2013

Nancy, 40 years old, lives in a slum of migrants from Papua. "Mespapua", this is the name of the slum, is in Tanah Abang district, just beside the high luxory buildings of the "business district" in central Jakarta.

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Indonesia floods 10
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
01 Mar 2013

A worker under the bridge in Rawajati district is showing the height of the Ciliwung River’s water during the flood of January 2013.

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Indonesia floods 11
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
01 Mar 2013

Henia is 39 years old and lives in the slum on the banks of Ciliwung River in Rawajati district. Her house, like those of her neighbours, was submerged by water and mud up to 4 m during the flooding of January 2013. She managed to escape, finding shelter on the roof of her shack.

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Indonesia floods 12
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
01 Mar 2013

Ruins of a small house in Pasar Minggu district, community of poor people on the banks of Ciliwung River. Mud and garbage were still covering floor and walls, even after a month from the floods.

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Indonesia floods 13
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
01 Mar 2013

Maria, age 30, in her bedroom with her 15-days old son in Rawajati district along the banks of Ciliwung River. During the flood of January 2013, her house was fully inundated by water and mud.

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Indonesia floods 14
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
01 Mar 2013

The shadow of a man is seen through a window while restoring his damaged small house. In the reflection, a woman is resting with children outside her house in the community of poor people on the banks of Ciliwung River, in Pasar Minggu district. Here, waters have risen up to 4 meters.

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Indonesia floods 15
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
09 Apr 2013

A woman is taking a bath in the highly polluted waters of Ciliwung River in the poor neighbourhood in Kampung Pulo district. Continuing disposal of any kind of solid and domestic waste inside rivers and illegal development of housing on their banks obstruct the flowing of waters exasperating seasonal floods.

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Indonesia floods 16
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
03 Jul 2013

Katulampa catchment area, Bogor. A man is sieving the sediments of Ciliwung River, just upstream of the Katulampa sluice, in search for fine sands.

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Indonesia floods 17
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
26 Jun 2013

View of tea fields in Cisarua, on the way up to Puncak, Bogor. The growing reclamation of lands, for agricultural (tea and rice fields) and farming, has led to the deforestation of more and more areas of primary forests on the hills and mountains which delimits Jakarta’s catchment basin, thus reducing the absorption capacity of rainwater in these areas.

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Indonesia floods 18
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
28 Jun 2013

View of a golf court inside Rancamaya Golf Estate, a 700 hectares area of new luxury houses at the foot of Mount Salak (in the background). The reclamation of land for new housing complex is leading to a drastically reduction in the catchment capacity of rainwater by upper land of Jakarta’s basin.

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Indonesia floods 19
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
04 Jul 2013

View of Cijeruk’s waterfalls, on the slopes of Mount Salak, which are inside an area of preserved primary forest. Dense trees of mountain forests provide protection against flood. A number of field surveys show a decline in trees density in the mountains south of Jakarta, thus reducing their capability to mitigate water runoff during heavy rains.

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Indonesia floods 20
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
13 Feb 2014

Aerial view of the province of Indramyu. The northern coast of Java is heavily impacted by intensive shrimps farming and settlements. Almost all the mangrove forests are gone leaving the coast prone to seasonal and tidal floods.

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Indonesia floods 21
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
17 Feb 2014

Mukhoiriah, 36, with her ​​mother and her children stands in front of their house. She has been living there since she was born and, over the years, her family has filled the flooded floor with sands and rocks thus burying their own house. Mukhoiriah remembers having had tidal floods every day. The road is the only area, inside Banger river community, that has been lifted, many times, by the city government, so now, it is higher than Mukhoiriah's house.

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Indonesia floods 22
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
17 Feb 2014

Sanusi, 56, is a worms seller. He lives alone in the house where he was born, in the Banger river community. For 30 years, the high tide continuously has been flooding the floor. Since 10 years, Sanusi has not been able to put his feet on the ground because it is constantly full of water. He lives under the roof perched on the rafters like a bird. He has no electricity, no services. He cannot cook, so every day he buys ready food from street stalls. He has no money to buy a pump or to raise the floor.

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Indonesia floods 23
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
17 Feb 2014

Umi, 53, inside his house in the poor community along the Banger river. She has been living here for 34 years. Over this period, the house has been lifted 3 times and totally rebuilt once. The black mark on the wall corresponds to the height of sea water that chronically enters.

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Indonesia floods 24
Semarang, Semarang
By Elisabetta Zavoli
17 Feb 2014

Qomariah, 44, under the mosquito net with his son Leno, 2. They live in the poor community along the Banger river. This area is constantly subject to flooding due to high tide and subsidence. Here, the sea water can rise up to 50 cm.

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Indonesia floods 25
Jakarta
By Elisabetta Zavoli
15 Feb 2014

The reflection of a shoes vendor is mirrored in the sea water, in Johar market, Semarang's old town. This area is subject to a subsidence of 2-3 cm/year and the high tide can rise up to 1 meter from the ground.