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Ending the flood blame game

Publication Date : 23-01-2014


It would be easy to blame flood victims living along the riverbank or its nearby risky areas —why don’t they just move? They would likely do so if they had the resources; but property prices shoot up once an area is known to be flood free.

So leaders resort to blaming each other — President Susilo YUdhoyono points to the governor, the governor points to his counterparts in neighbouring areas and the minister says it’s not his fault either. The rest of us are stuck in the middle — over 65,000 in Jakarta’s scattered shelters alone, scores clogging the streets, stuck in unmoving crowded buses or stranded at train stations as the tracks near the riverbank are under water too.

Ahead of the elections, some politicians think it’s a great time to discredit the current favorite, Jakarta Governor Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo, even though everyone is aware that flooding has been a problem for years.

Actually, a significant way out has been around for almost 40 years — it was popular governor Ali Sadikin who proposed the establishment of a coordinating body for Jakarta and its adjacent areas; the Greater Jakarta Development Cooperation Agency (BKSP) was then set up in 1975. It is still in operation today, currently under the chairmanship of West Java Governor Ahmad Heryawan.

But the coordinating agency is just that — mandated to coordinate — which is why hardly anyone seems aware that the BKSP has been around for decades. Flooding worsens every year, not necessarily because of more rain but because our building needs and greed have left little catchment areas and runoff channels for all the water. Likewise, extreme weather in the Philippines may have contributed to heavy rains in the inundated North Sulawesi capital of Manado, but reckless building is also to be blamed for the flooding.

What our metropolitans lack is a “superbody” with a stronger mandate than the BKSP. Without a minister in charge of the metropolis areas, BKSP coordination has depended too much on its willingness to cooperate among the leaders — which has been questionable.

There has yet to be a solution, for instance, on how to channel the overflowing waters of Ciliwung, one of Jakarta’s major rivers, without flooding neighbouring Tangerang.

Jakarta, during the day, has at least twice the population of Kuala Lumpur and its neighbouring towns; yet Malaysia has a Federal Territories and Urban Well-being minister, who oversees 10 local authorities of the Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley.

The government urgently needs to learn from others in terms of how to manage metropolitan areas; we can’t just promote Jakarta as an expatriate-friendly city with all our apartments, only to have the expats get stuck in them for days on end.

A minister in charge of neighbouring towns would help the management of riverbanks, infrastructure construction and the increasing of catchment areas.

Residents are sick of the blame game — after surviving the traffic, we still have to run for buckets and fix our roofs like in a TV commercial: “Bocor, bocor!” (It’s leaking!)


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