Jakarta. The giant sea wall project in North Jakarta, expected to break ground in September, has received mixed reaction from urban planning experts, with one praising it as a necessary step to prevent flooding and another questioning the benefits it brings to the people and its use for the capital’s flood-prevention efforts.
Nining Indroyono Soesilo, an urban economics expert who also teaches at the University of Indonesia, supports the Rp 400 trillion ($34 billion) project, which she said would serve as a flood defense, especially when the climate and weather become extreme and unpredictable.
“Of course, we have no ability to control natural disasters. However, if we don’t take any concrete action now as a countermeasure, such as building this sea wall, the city has a high potential to be submerged,” she said on Monday.
“The vision is clear, that is, to prevent Jakarta from sinking. But [the sea wall’s] use and benefits for the people will depend on the leadership of the city and the central government,” she said.
The Indonesian government has set up the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development (NCICD) project, a joint cooperation with the Netherlands, with the goal to protect the capital from flooding caused by high tides and to develop the coastal area. The project includes building giant walls and reclaiming some land to create 17 artificial islands.
The Jakarta administration is expected to break ground on the sea wall project in September, with officials stressing that most help would come from the Netherlands and that Indonesia — lacking technological equipment — might be dependent on the European country.
Andi Baso Mappapoleonro, head of the Regional Development Planning Agency (Bappeda), said the master plan for the NCICD is expected to be finalized by the end of August and breaking ground can be expected next month.
The plan is to be led by Dutch consulting and engineering firm Witteveen+Bos, under the guidance of the project’s lead agency, the office of Indonesia’s coordinating minister for economy.
The plan involves the building of a 32-kilometer long sea wall, spanning from Teluk Naga in Tangerang, Banten province, to Tanjung Priok in North Jakarta.
The project is also expected to help reduce flooding in urban areas and rivers, which have been a perennial issue for Jakarta’s population of about 10 million people. River flow from mountains draining into the coast tend to be blocked by rising waters, which then contribute to flooding in the city.
The second stage of the development involves work on urban facilities.
Andi mentioned that the government has yet to specify the proportion of investment that will come from the private sector, the central government and the Jakarta administration.
Johannes Frederick Warouw, a spatial planning expert from the University of Indonesia, however, questioned whether building such a big project was necessary at this stage.
“This will be one of the biggest projects Indonesia has ever taken on. The problem now is whether the plan can be practically implemented as it will affect three large rivers that disembogue into the gulf,” Johannes said on Monday.
He doubts whether Indonesia needs the giant sea wall for the time being, pointing to the fact that the nation would be dependent on the Dutch government for its maintenance.
“I think we don’t really need to build one right now because the problem that will emerge later on is the maintenance. We’re not ready for it, but if we build [it], there’ll be a bigger problem in the future,” he said.
Johannes expressed concern about Indonesia’s lack of expertise in technology and people in handling the project.
“If the wall breaks, highly expensive maintenance will follow, but we don’t have the capability to repair it by our own. Hence, we’ll turn to help from foreign countries that have the technologies to fix the wall,” Johannes said.
However, Nining disagreed, saying that as Indonesia had neither money nor the technology to build such an advanced construction, it was only natural that it should cooperate with other countries.
She added that with more people moving to Jakarta all the time — placing a further burden on the capital’s resources, including fewer catchment areas due to more housing — the project needed to be implemented sooner than later.
Still, she warned against possible graft during the project, a setback that could compromise the wall’s construction quality, pointing to rampant corruption among officials.
“The community must join forces to monitor the project to prevent corruption that could destroy the whole project,” she said.
Johannes also raised concern about the fate of thousands of fishermen and their families living in the area, who depend on the sea for a living.
“We need to push for the government to provide alternative jobs for these people,” he said.