Every year, large populations must deal with hazardous flooding, and the problem is getting worse.
Indonesia’s predictable, but hazardous, annual floods inundate the city every rainy season from December to February, engulfing tens of kilometers of residential city areas with up to four meters of sewage-infused floodwater for days, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Indonesia.
“We feel stressed when we have to keep evacuating our houses. Our children cannot go to school, and we do not work during this time,” said Saripudin, 40, a resident of North Kedoya, a riverside community of 7,000 that sits next to the Palanggrahan River.
Between December and February each year, North Kedoyan residents are accustomed to living with bechek, the Indonesian word for “puddles” – pools of water ranging from 30 cm to one meter of water inside their homes. But since 2012, the flood water levels in Jakarta have been increasing, according to community members and the Palang Merah Indonesia (PMI), the local Red Cross. In January 2014 alone, some neighborhoods were evacuated nine times to escape water between two to four meters inside their homes. Despite recent attempts by the government to encourage residents to relocate to less flood-prone land, the majority prefer to stay and continue to cope with floods
While communities have developed creative coping mechanisms to deal with incoming deluges, such as keeping chickens and other valuables on the heightened railroad tracks running parallel to the village, humanitarians and hydrological experts point to the perennial health concerns and safety hazards of living in flood plains beside rivers. But with the majority poor of Jakarta dwelling beside rivers and working in informal labor, easy access to the city center is necessary for economic survival, and the riverbanks have become their home.
Since 2013, municipal authorities have been encouraging households in flood-prone areas, such as North Kedoya, to relocate to low-cost government housing further inland. Roughly one hundred people from the northern and western areas of the city have already departed their swampy homes, but the majority staunchly refuse.
“This is our home. If we move from here, we will have to pay rent somewhere. We cannot afford it so we will make do how to live with floods,” said Saripudin, whose family has lived in Keboya for generations.