Motorists pass a flooded street in front of the presidential palace in Jakarta on Monday. (Antara Photo/Fanny Octavianus)

Jakarta Flooded? You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet, Officials Say

BY :LENNY TRISTIA TAMBUN, RANGGA PRAKOSO & BAYU MARHAENJATI

FEBRUARY 10, 2015

Jakarta. Scenes of apocalyptic inundation that paralyzed much of Jakarta on Monday could play out again over the next three weeks, with officials predicting more heavy rains and tidal floods.

Monday’s flood, triggered by nearly 24 hours straight of rain in Jakarta and upstream area of Bogor, where all major waterways cutting through the capital originate, was only “moderate,” said Denny Wahyu, the head of the Jakarta Disaster Mitigation Agency, or BPBD.

More showers are expected to hit the region from Wednesday through to Feb. 20, he said. The rainy season is expected to peak between Feb. 21 and March 2, with heavy showers expected in 80 percent of the capital as well as north and west Bogor, Denny said.

“During this period, the weather agency is predicting high seas,” he said. “This is a concern. We must take measures to anticipate more flooding toward the end of February.”

The government’s Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology, or BPPT, has proposed that the Jakarta administration turn to cloud seeding to diffuse the intensity of the rains.

“It’s important to redistribute the rains [elsewhere] to minimize the flood potential in Jakarta,” said BPPT cloud seeding division chief Tri Handoko Seto. “It’s best that we conduct [cloud seeding] within the next few days.”

A surge of cold air from the north is to blame for this month’s heavy rainfall, Tri said, which in some areas amounted to 100 millimeters. “This is no small-intensity rain,” he said.

The BPPT, Tri added, has since January sought authorization from the Jakarta administration to carry out cloud-seeding exercises, in an effort to make rain fall over the Java Sea instead of the capital.

“We’re ready. But there hasn’t been any instruction [from Jakarta],” he said.

Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama said cloud seeding was not yet necessary, adding that his administration was confident that any further flooding in the immediate future would be “modest and still manageable” by comparison to Monday’s inundation. “Cloud-seeding efforts will be taken if Jakarta is in a state of emergency,” he said.

Basuki noted that water levels in areas affected by Monday’s flood had receded as of Tuesday morning, an indication that flood systems in the capital were working.

And while the intensity of the flooding in some spots, including in the area around City Hall and the State Palace, was worse than usual, the extent of the inundation was not as widespread as in previous years — 307 areas were designated flood-affected zones on Monday, compared to 634 at this point last year, said the BPBD’s Denny.

“Hopefully that number doesn’t go up,” he added.

Blackout blamed

One of the worst-affected municipalities this year is North Jakarta, where the problem was compounded by the floodwaters flowing in from the rest of the city, and tidal flooding that kept much of the water from draining into the sea.

Basuki said the flooding would not have been as bad if state-owned electricity company PLN had not cut power during the peak of the rains in several areas of North, West and Central Jakarta.

That outage meant officials at the Pluit polder in North Jakarta were unable to run all 12 of their pumps to channel the water out to sea, Basuki said.

“The polder couldn’t hold the water. You know why? PLN cut off the electricity, that’s why the pumps didn’t work,” he said on Monday night. “And because they didn’t work and the rain continued to pour, the water level rose.”

The utility has acknowledged cutting off the electricity supply to the area, but has rejected the notion that it was to blame for exacerbating the intensity of the flooding.

“It wasn’t PLN’s fault,” Kusdianto, a spokesman for the company, said on Tuesday. “We would only cut the power if we consider the situation has become critical and dangerous for both the public and the electrical installations.”

PLN said power was shut off at 11:38 a.m., but the pumps were operating again by 1:15 p.m.

“For all we know, the blackout in the morning wasn’t PLN’s fault. Maybe the water did reach a high level or there might have been circumstances beyond our control,” Kusdianto said.

He promised, though, that PLN would try to maintain the electricity supply to all public offices, hospitals and flood control pumps, of which there are 38 throughout the capital.

Basuki, who claimed on Monday that flooding in the city center should never have happened because the waterways in Pluit were working better than ever, said he was puzzled by PLN’s decision.

“They said they didn’t want anyone to be electrocuted, but it wasn’t even flooding” in some of the areas where the power was shut off, he said.

After hearing about the outage, Basuki said he ordered the Jakarta Water Agency to turn on a generator on at the polder, but it could only supply enough power to run two pumps.

“The Pluit polder is the key. I’ll ask the police and army to guard it if needed,” the governor said.

He also shared his frustration with President Joko Widodo on Tuesday morning during a visit to the State Palace.

“I asked the president to help me in telling PLN that there must always be electricity available for the pumps in North Jakarta,” he said.

Poor system

Basuki Hadimuljono, the minister of public works and housing, blamed the severity of Monday’s flooding on Jakarta’s poor drainage systems.

“The rain intensity is high while the drainage capacity is low,” he said.

Agus Priyono Jendro, the head of the city’s water management agency, agreed that it was a problem of the flood systems being overwhelmed.

“When we designed it, we thought the drainage system would be able to cope with large volumes of water,” he said. “However, we fail to anticipate the subsidence of the ground surface, which causes the drains to overflow quickly. We’ll evaluate this matter.”

Experts have for years urged the Jakarta administration to fix the capital’s failing infrastructure, including its drainage system, while revamping the city’s canals.

As the rainy season peaks, flash floods increase in both frequency and severity, causing destruction of property, disrupting schools and forcing more and more people to evacuate their homes, said Nirwono Yoga, an urban planning expert at Trisakti University in West Jakarta.

This latest flood severely underscores the city’s infrastructure shortcomings, he added.

Due to the poor construction of Jakarta’s riverbanks, urban planners say major failures in the system are leading to further damage and disasters, he said.

Nirwono worries about the future of the capital’s buildings, with most rainwater going straight into Jakarta’s drainage system rather than into the ground.

“The government should move toward an eco-drainage system, allowing water to soak into the ground as soon as possible, instead of lining the city’s riverbanks with concrete. The government should think more toward the future,” he said.

Drastic and immediate improvements are needed in the capital’s drainage system, only 33 percent of which are still functional, he said.

He also called for the “normalization” of rivers, which involves dredging and widening waterways to increase water flow rates, and which is still ongoing along the Pesanggrahan and the Ciliwung rivers, to be speeded up.

But Nirwono underscored in particular the need to develop more open green spaces to act as water catchment areas.

Less than 10 percent of the capital’s land area consists of parks or open spaces, while spatial planning statutes mandate at least 30 percent for such space.

Flood continued

As of Tuesday afternoon, close to 6,000 people had evacuated from their flood-hit homes to 14 city-sanctioned shelters across North, West and East Jakarta.

Some 2,500 of the 6,000 refugees were in North Jakarta, where 14 of 32 wards were inundated.

East Jakarta, the capital’s biggest municipality by area, saw 27 of 65 wards flooded and 1,800 people forced to evacuate, most of them from the Cipinang and Kampung Melayu areas.

Twenty-three of 56 wards in West Jakarta were also affected, forcing close to 1,700 people to evacuate.

“Two other municipalities, Central and South Jakarta were also affected, but there are no evacuees,” Denny said.

Eight and 21 wards were affected in Central and South Jakarta, respectively.

On Tuesday, flooding was also reported in parts of the satellite cities of Tangerang and Bekasi, to Jakarta’s west and east, respectively.

In Tangerang, some areas were inundated in up to 1.5 meters of water. Access to the capital was also cut off as the Angke River overflowed, leaving sections of the main artery, Jalan K.H. Hasyim Ashari, under a meter of water.

The water finally drained enough to allow traffic through by the afternoon.

The Jakarta Police, whose jurisdiction also covers Tangerang, said the Total Persada Jatiuwung housing complex there was particularly badly hit by the flood, with some homes immersed in up to two meters of water.

Also heavily affected is Kampung Pulo in East Jakarta and Cipulir in West Jakarta, where water levels also reached up to two meters.

The police, military and the National Search and Rescue Agency, or Basarnas, have deployed nearly 2,000 personnel in total to help in the BPBD’s relief efforts.

Jakarta Police Deputy Chief Brig. Gen. Nandang Jumantara said police were also deployed to secure homes left by occupants fleeing to higher ground.

“We need to secure the homes and belongings left behind by their owners. The military has also pledged some security assistance to prevent any looting,” he said.

In Bekasi, floodwaters have receded in some areas, while others are still under up to a meter of water.

Officials from the local search and rescue agency and military were seen patrolling affected neighborhoods on board inflatable rafts to look for people trapped inside their homes.

However, some residents, particularly those in two-story houses, refused to evacuate, citing security concerns.

The Bekasi Health Office, meanwhile, is on high alert for flood-related ailments such as skin rashes, diarrhoea and high fever.

“It’s advisable not to be in contact with floodwater for very long,” said health office chief Koesmedi. “Always clean up after if you do.”

Health officials are also bracing for an expected surge in post-flooding diseases such as dysentery, leptospirosis and other water-borne illnesses.

Outage

The floods caused gridlock throughout much of Jakarta on Monday, with the TransJakarta bus network forced to shut five of its 12 corridors because of heavy flooding along the routes, with service along five other corridors severely disrupted.

The routes that were shut on Monday were Pulogadung-Harmoni; Kalideres-Harmoni; Lebak Bulus-Harmoni; Cililitan-Tanjung Priok; and Pluit-Tanjung Priok.

The Kampung Melayu-Ancol and Pinangranti-Pluit corridors were shortened due to flooding.

TransJakarta director Antonius N.S. Kosasih said the company had suffered serious financial losses as a result of limited bus operations. But the flood has proved a boon for state-owned railway operator Kereta Api Indonesia, with many stations in the Greater Jakarta area having to open up additional ticket counters to serve passengers fearful of getting stuck in gridlock or floods on the roads.

“A lot of people switched to taking the train, maybe because of the rain and flooding,” said Eva Chairunisa, a spokeswoman for KAI Jakarta.

One such passenger Agus Sutoyo, who said he normally commuted to work by car, opted to leave his car at home after hearing reports of vehicles getting caught in the flooding and stalling.

All train operations in the Greater Jakarta area network were back to normal by Tuesday after disruptions on Monday, except for services to Kampung Bandan station, located near the heavily flooded Mangga Dua area straddling West and Central Jakarta.

“Kampung Bandan is still inundated in 20 to 30 centimeters of water,” Eva said.

She said KAI Jakarta was forced to shut down much of its operations on Monday due to flooding in Bukit Duri, which connects Bogor and Bekasi to the city center. Sections of track between Jatinegara and Manggarai stations were also damaged because of the floods.

“We managed to fix the broken tracks on Monday night, so [Tuesday’s] operation ran smoothly,” Eva said.

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