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.