Socialist Worker

‘The poor suffer the most’—Jakarta resident speaks out on floods

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2687

Relief efforts in a flooded street in Jakarta, Indonesia

Relief efforts in a flooded street in Jakarta, Indonesia (Pic: Rizki Affiat )


As the flood waters recede—at least for now—in Jakarta, Indonesia, residents are left trying to piece their lives back together.

Now they are asking questions about how to avert catastrophe in the future.

Torrential downpours battered the city on New Year’s Eve and continued until noon the day after.

Over a week later tens of thousands of people are still displaced, many forced to stay in overcrowded and insanitary emergency shelters.

At least 60 people have died through drowning, hypothermia and electrocution.

Rizki Affiat lives in the South Tangerang City area on the outskirts of Jakarta, and battled knee-high water which flooded the ground floor of her house.

“People always suffer from seasonal floods, but this is unprecedented,” she told Socialist Worker.

“My house is a bit higher than others in the neighbourhood, but my neighbours have suffered from water one or two metres high. They are literally swimming in their houses.”

The recent deluge is similar to a historic flood in 2007, which affected more than 70 percent of Indonesia’s capital.

And severe floods are becoming more common—records show that there were 46 cases in 2018 alone, where more than 15,000 people were displaced.

Climate catastrophe is spreading fire and floods
Climate catastrophe is spreading fire and floods
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Climate catastrophe is a major factor in worsening conditions. Carbon emissions are leading to temperature rises which in turn causes weather systems to behave erratically.

Rizki said part of the problem in Jakarta was a planning policy that led to an explosion in private businesses—without any consideration of the environmental impacts.

She called for “pro-people housing and planning policy, particularly for public, less commercialised space.”

“We have so many malls, and so many hotels, and it’s always a problem—development is not prioritised for the people,” she said.

The ecological catastrophe is particularly acute in Jakarta because it interacts with existing inequalities.

The city’s water supplies are choked with rubbish so residents are forced to extract water from the ground—contributing to the city sinking at an alarming rate.

And the pollution in Jakarta’s rivers make it more prone to flooding as water can’t drain away in times of heavy rainfall.

The situation for residents is dramatic. Poor people, often living in shanty towns on the banks of Jakarta’s swelling rivers suffer the worst and most immediate effects.

They are forced to suffer in cramped emergency shelters while the rich can escape the crisis—for now—in their luxury tower blocks built on land that doesn’t flood as easily.

“Those that suffer the most are the lower economic class—they don’t have strong infrastructure in their houses and when the water recedes it costs a lot of money to renovate and clean everything up,” said Rizki.

We need to see the roots of the problem

Rizki Affiat

The entire city could be completely submerged in just 20 years’ time, according to current estimates.

Plans by the Indonesian government to relocate its key government departments to a safer corner of Borneo doesn’t address the catastrophic peril that tens of millions of people face.

And as the ecological crisis explodes, environmental activists have blasted the Indonesian government’s support for mining industries.

The government, led by president Joko Widodo (Jokowi), has issued around 8,000 mining permits in 2019.

As well as contributing to climate chaos, these operations often pit firms against residents, whose lives, livelihoods and communities are devastated by mining firms.

Jakarta—a horrifying vision of climate catastrophe
Jakarta—a horrifying vision of climate catastrophe
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Companies look to extract coal, gold, iron and nickel at any cost. Melky Nahar, campaign manager at the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam) said attacks on people by security forces employed by mining companies is on the rise.

“Under Jokowi’s regime, the dependency on the mining sector, especially coal mining, has become huge,” he said.

“Jokowi has shown to the public that he is in power not to serve the people, but to serve the industry through investment.”

And alongside land-grabs, deforestation and an increase in pollution, residents also face intimidation and violence from mining corporations.

And the government is planning to axe a law that punishes mining firms that have broken regulations.

For Rizki, the floods in Jakarta are “interlinked” with other effects of a world in crisis.

“It’s getting worse—it’s happening in Australia with the fire too. Our government has its problems—it accelerates inequalities, but we have a global problem.

“We need to see the roots of the problem,” she said.

Every day that the capitalist system continues to plunder our natural resources is another day further in devastating climate catastrophe.


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