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JAKARTA - If you think flooding in Jakarta is a new phenomenon you couldn't be more wrong. For hundreds of years, perhaps even longer, the area where the capital is situated has been plagued by annual flooding.
As early as the 1640s the administration of the then Batavia, the Dutch East India Company (VOC), had realized the need for flood prevention and dug a system of channels to surround and penetrate the town, according to Susan Abeyasekere in her book Jakarta, A History (1989).
The Kali Besar itself was straightened out to form the biggest canal of all, she wrote. "The land was so low lying that unless earth was dug out to raise the level of built-up areas, the settlement would be regularly flooded," Abeyasekere says.
However, the canal system had never managed to solve the growing city's drainage problems completely, and in 1846 P. Bleeker, a Dutch topographer, wrote that the lower lying areas of town were subject to flooding and that the 1,069 densely packed houses there sometimes stood three to four feet deep (90 centimeters to 1.2 meters) in water when floods occurred.
"In the wet season ... these reservoirs of corrupted water overflow their banks in the lower part of town, and fill the lower stories of the houses, where they leave behind them an inconceivable quantity of slime and filth" wrote Johan Splinter Stavorinus in his book Voyages to the East Indies (1798).
So frequent was the flooding that only when there were particularly bad floods did the authorities feel obliged to undertake drainage work, Abeyasekere wrote in her book.
Prior to the end of the 19th century the development of the city had never been centralized in any one spot because of difficulties in finding an ideal location due to marshy land and the threat of floods.
Today's Jakarta stretches 661.64 square kilometers across an alluvial lowland on the north coast of West Java, and is criss-crossed by 13 rivers, both natural and man-made.
And to this day flooding in the capital remains a chronic problem, despite thousands of dollars being spent on flood control and the development of technology spanning over 400 years.
The problem now, as it was hundreds of years ago, is rapid population growth, which has outpaced the development of human awareness of the environment. Between 1988 and 1992 some 2,753 hectares of agricultural land were converted into housing estates, and 47 hectares converted into industrial estates.
Once upon a time, there used to be 185 small ponds in and around Jakarta, which created a natural catchment for rain water, with a total area of 1,304 hectares. But they too have had to make way for "progress" and the construction of more concrete jungles.
By 1994 the six natural ponds located in Jakarta had decreased to two, and of the original 122 ponds with a total area of 561 hectares in Bogor, West Java, only 316 hectares remained.
In Bekasi, West Java, only 10 hectares, or five ponds, remained of the original 157 hectares, or 12 ponds, and in Tangerang, also in West Java, out of the 1,331 hectares comprising 45 natural ponds, only 968 remained. That was eight years ago, and we can expect that a lot more has been lost to us in the meantime.
It is easy to blame the people's habit of throwing waste in the rivers and clogging the waterways for the annual deluge in the capital, but it takes two to tango and powerful conglomerates and petty government officials must also shoulder much of the blame.
The cries of the common people whose houses are inundated each year may fall on deaf ears, but it is not so easy to dismiss the flooding of the Ir Sedyatmo toll road that grows worse every year.
The toll road is the main thoroughfare linking the city to its international airport, Soekarno-Hatta, and any imperfections stand out like a sore thumb.
The Ir Sedyatmo road, built on marshy land, reportedly sunk by as much as 80 centimeters in some sections from its original level between the time of its construction in 1985 and 1994, causing the road to be inundated during floods, a problem which has become worse in the past two years.
Environmentalists blame the development of an exclusive residential complex, Pantai Indah Kapuk (PIK), in North Jakarta for the worsening flooding of the toll road. The PIK complex, by noted businessman Ciputra, was built on an area that had been decreed in 1977 as a protected marsh area and natural reserve.
But according to Kompas daily, since 1982 the government has violated its own ministerial decree and contracted businessmen to develop and "improve" the area. In 1995, president Soeharto issued a decree formalizing the Jakarta Bay project, which covers an area of 2,700 hectares.
In the past, the area was a haven for more than 60 plant species and 2,000 animal species. Its mangrove forest protected the land from eroding away into the ocean and acted as a filter preventing sea water from penetrating the fresh, and the land's filth from invading the ocean.
At the time, environmental groups such as the Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi) said that the project could upset the ecological balance of Jakarta's coastline and cause even worse flooding. Among other things, they predicted that the project would cause flooding on the Ir Sedyatmo toll road.
However, Ciputra rejected the accusations and even said that he was ready to face trial should there be environmental problems caused by the housing project (Kompas, Sept. 14, 1992).
The 1995 decree was revoked in 1998 by Soeharto's successor, B.J. Habibie, but the damage has been done and instead of a flood-preventing mangrove forest, the area is now a multi-million rupiah housing estate.

Posted in General @ 22 January 2002 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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