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Jakarta rushes to keep annual flooding at bay

Publication Date : 14-01-2014


Indonesia put its national capital on emergency alert and said it would start cloud-seeding to induce most of the rain to fall over the Java Sea, in a bid to prevent the annual monsoon flooding that has frequently paralysed life in the metropolis.

Announcing the two-month-long operation on social media on Monday, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono also ordered the police and military to help thousands of residents in and around the capital who were trapped in their homes, or had to evacuate after a downpour at the weekend.

Heavy rain across Jakarta and its neighbouring areas at the weekend saw at least 7,000 homes affected by floodwaters of up to 4m high. At least 5,000 residents sought shelter in 39 locations across the city on Monday.

Forecasters said more rain is expected in the coming weeks.

The National Agency for Disaster Management (BNPB) and the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) said at a joint press briefing that one Hercules aircraft and two Casa planes will be deployed from today for weather modification operations.

"We are applying the same technology we used to fight the forest fires over Sumatra last year," said Dr F. Heru Widodo, who heads the BPPT's artificial rain unit.

In some cases, seeding agents are introduced into clouds to produce rain over a target area so that the capital sees little or no rainfall. Some 50 billion rupiah (US$4.15 million) has been set aside for the operations, BNPB chief Syamsul Maarif said.

The move aims to prevent a repeat of last year's floods that saw large sections of the city of 10 million inundated for days. But it is also loaded with political expediency, coming three months before parliamentary polls in April.

The rain is also set to test Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, who put in place a raft of flood mitigation measures over the past year, but was constrained by existing infrastructure, and who many Indonesians believe has what it takes to be their next president.

But his opponents took potshots at him yesterday, with Democratic Party MP Ruhut Sitompul calling the governor's daily impromptu walkabouts "futile". He said: "How does he expect to administer Indonesia if he can't administer Jakarta?"

Rachmat H.S., the head of the Betawi Brotherhood Forum, asked him to focus on managing the floods and not think of running for president.

An undaunted Joko told reporters that the city administration was doing what it could, including dredging reservoirs and rivers.

But he stressed that flood mitigation was also the responsibility of the central government, and of residents, who should not be littering the capital's waterways.

"There are 13 major as well as small rivers, in addition to 884 small channels. Flood management will take a long time," he said.

He added that the Dutch port of Rotterdam, which Jakarta is collaborating with on flood prevention infrastructure, took 200 years to overcome flooding.

Residents, however, were more understanding, with some saying on TV that the scale of flooding has so far paled in comparison to last year, when sections of the capital were inundated for days.

It helped that rainfall on Monday was relatively light.

But the authorities continued to warn residents to remain alert overnight and in the coming weeks.

The health ministry also issued alerts warning residents to practise personal hygiene in order to prevent water-borne diseases from spreading, a major concern during the rainy season.


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