Motorists push their motorbikes as they wade through a flooded street outside the presidential palace in Jakarta on Monday. (EPA Photo/Mast Irham)

Jakarta: A Metropolis Underwater, and Under Siege

FEBRUARY 09, 2015

Jakarta. Heavy rain across the Greater Jakarta area, which started late on Sunday and lasted well into Monday afternoon, have inundated at least 2,600 homes across the capital, causing blackouts and massive traffic gridlock all day long.

Murky waters reaching 50 centimeters deep rushed into homes across Central, North and West Jakarta, but the Jakarta Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) had not at the time of writing ordered any evacuations, said BPBD spokesman Bambang Surya Putra.

The agency has instead erected makeshift levees to prevent more water from entering homes and buildings.

Heavy showers battered Jakarta as well as the hilly areas of Bogor where the capital’s rivers originate, sending greater volumes of water downstream and into the city.

West Jakarta suffered the most severe cases of flooding, with both the Ciliwung and Krukut rivers overflowing.

The Karet flood gate, where the two rivers meet, struggled to contain the heavy influx of water, prompting officials to raise the area’s emergency alert status to 1, it’s highest level.

Officials were forced to ease water levels, which reached a peak of 6.3 meters, causing flooding in the West Jakarta wards of Petamburan, Jelambar, Pluit, Duri Pulo, Tomang, Cideng and Grogol.

Meanwhile, National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho assured officials continued to monitor the 12 flood gates located in and around Jakarta.

“If these conditions continue, flooding will spread. Water levels upstream will continue to rise, causing areas downstream to be inundated,” he said.

The floods brought Jakarta traffic to a standstill, with commuters complaining of roads to work and schools being completely inaccessible.

City Hall in Central Jakarta was not spared from rising water levels that cut off access to the area, while two of the capital’s main roads — Sudirman and Thamrin — were submerged in up to 40 centimeters of rainwater.

No transport

Public transportation received a severe blow, with the TransJakarta busway ceasing operations of at least four of its corridors on Monday morning.

Service for Corridor II, which connects Pulo Gadung, East Jakarta, with Harmoni in Central Jakarta, was brought to a halt due to severe flooding in Cempaka Putih, Central Jakarta, where roads submerged in up to 1 meter of water were inaccessible to all modes of transport.

Corridor VIII connecting Lebak Bulus, South Jakarta, and Harmoni, ceased operations due to high water levels in Kedoya West Jakarta.

Meanwhile, Corridors X (from Cililitan, East Jakarta, to Tanjung Priok, North Jakarta) and XI (connecting Pluit with Tanjung Priok) were halted due to flooding in Sunter, North Jakarta.

The Jakarta Police’s traffic division counted 52 flooded roads as of noon, across the city.

“We received reports of 16 [flooded] areas in Central Jakarta, 11 in North Jakarta, 10 in West Jakarta, nine in South Jakarta, and six in East Jakarta,” said Adj. Sr. Comr. Budiyanto of the Jakarta Police.

Train services were also disrupted as train stations in Tanah Abang and Kota struggled to keep persistent flood waters at bay. KRL commuter trains from Jakarta’s satellite cities Bogor and Depok could go no further than Manggarai station in South Jakarta.

Apologizing for the unforeseen circumstances, spokesperson for state-owned train company KAI Commuter Jabodetabek, Eva Chairunisa, advised commuters to find other modes of transportation as it was too dangerous for trains to pass flooded areas.

As a precautionary measure, state utility firm Perusahaan Listrik Negera shut down its power grid in several areas of North, West and Central Jakarta.

“PLN will restore the electricity supply when our installations and those of our customers are dry and ready,” spokesman Mambang Hertadi told a press conference in Jakarta.

Mambang added that the company had cut off the flow of electricity at more than 400 substations ­— in Marunda and Tanjung Priok, North Jakarta; Cikupa, Kebon Jeruk, Cengkareng and Teluk Naga in West Jakarta; and Cempaka Putih — as the substations were flooded.

“We will clean up these substations and check them first,” the spokesman added. “For our customers, please make sure that all electronic appliances and installations are no longer wet.”

The satellite city of Bekasi saw water levels reaching 50 centimeters in some areas, also causing gridlock and flooding to pour into homes.

“People have had to cancel their daily activities — work, school — to take care of their houses and protect them from floods,” said Adi, a Bekasi resident.

Elusive solutions

Since the start of the year, flooding in the Greater Jakarta area, or Jabodetabek,  has forced nearly 20,000 people from their homes due to heavy rains, according to data from the BNPB.

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 for Trisakti University in West Jakarta.

This 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 towards 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 towards 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.

The urban planning expert also called for the normalization of rivers, which is still ongoing along South Jakarta’s Pesanggrahan River and the Ciliwung River.

But Nirwono particularly underlined the development of more 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 sustainable urban planning requires a city to consist of at least 30 percent of green space, he added.

Further coverage: