Mismanaging Jakarta's Flood

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - For sure climate change has created heavier precipitation than usual and caused repeated inundation in the capital city. But this does not mean flooding cannot be anticipated and managed. At the very least, impending inundation can be predicted, relieving suffering citizens can be organized, and quelling the floods can be expedited.

    The responsibility for good flood management falls squarely on the shoulders of Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan. As regional head, he should show us organized, comprehensive and effective strategies on how he plans to take care of floods. It is to be pitied; the two major inundations that flooded Jakarta in the first two months of 2020 showed how sadly lacking is Anies's performance.

    Let us do away with potential prejudices here and not connect Anies’ poor assessment to a political agenda. Indeed, several factions are championing Anies to become a presidential candidate in the 2024 General Election. But this should not mean his actions as Jakarta Governor cannot be assessed without a political electoral tag. It is imperative the public obtains clear and valid information about Anies' performance as Jakarta's leader.

    On paper, flood management is in fact not something overly complicated. The variables for avoiding overt impacts of flood damage are calculable. Jakarta’s long history of regular flooding should have made it possible for set clear-cut formulas on handling floods. As governor, all Anies has to do is lay down a plan, execute it, and monitor the anticipatory flood programs already in place if and when a flood occurs.

    Because of this, Anies should not have embroiled himself in a semantic dichotomy of river naturalization versus normalization. Likewise, the general public should not get itself into a slanging match on whether surplus water be channeled to the sea or allowed to seep into the earth. Debating such a moot point does not solve the issue at hand, and was only captivating for political buzzers.

    All the concepts for flood-handling can be executed in tandem. On riverbeds that allow it, naturalization can be executed. In urban centers with limited land, there is no choice but to put up concrete embankment walls. What needs to be tested is concept execution in the field. And this is where Anies’s role is up for measure.

    Firstly, from a budgetary point of view. Scrutinizing the budget for flood management year on year, it appears that flood anticipation is not a priority for Anies. Though spread over several budget items, total funds allocated for flood management has declined. In 2018, the total budget for flood management programs at the water resources office and sub-office amounted to Rp3.5 trillion. This year the amount declined to Rp2.5 trillion. In fact, budget absorption last year was at 90 percent.

    With decreased fund allocation, water pump testing and maintenance of new pumps were not optimal. In every flood this year came news about pumps that were not functioning. Trivial items such as this have a direct impact on flood handling in the field.

    Secondly, the matter of program execution. Many reports surfaced concerning coordination that did not work. Anies' sidewalk widening program in several spots throughout Jakarta apparently was not executed in tandem with a program to widen gutters. In a number of projects, such as in Menteng and along Jalan Sudirman, gutters instead became narrower or were clogged by debris from sidewalk demolition.

    Finally, the matter of anticipatory programs for upcoming floods. Aside from constructing two dams in Ciawi and Sukamahi, West Java, the central government is, in fact, planning to widen 13 rivers in Jakarta and constructing guttering in Ciliwung River. The projects are at a standstill because Governor Anies has not succeeded in releasing land in the specific spots.

    How Anies is handling land release for the flood management project feels vastly different from how he handled a similar action for the MRT project. We know that, thanks to Anies, several landowners who stubbornly resisted the MRT project in Jalan Fatmawati, South Jakarta, softened up and in the end relented.

    It is increasingly urgent that Anies improve his flood management actions considering social conflict around the issue is heightening. Hundreds of citizens in kampongs neighboring the Jakarta Garden City estate in Cakung, East Jakarta, last week went berserk in the AEON Mall. They accused the construction of the mall and luxurious housing estate as the culprit for why their village became submerged. Governor Anies has to ensure contractors fulfill all requirements for creating the appropriate public and social facilities.

    Overcoming the problems of flooding in Jakarta obviously cannot be conducted by Anies alone. President Joko Widodo has to lend a hand. In March 2014, Jokowi made a statement he would overcome Jakarta’s problems if he was elected president. It is now pay-up time for promises uttered six years ago.

    Read the Complete Story in this Week's Edition of Tempo English Magazine