As Jakarta braces for floods, residents adapt

Jakarta (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - Cindy, 10, sat in a yellow rubber dinghy at the end of an alley leading to her house on Monday, her clothes and hair all wet. Her friends, some naked, were swimming in the brown waters inundating the alley.

The girl's house, along with 1,000 other houses in Kampung Pulo, East Jakarta, Indonesia, had been submerged in 2 metres of floodwater since Sunday morning, but she looked happy rather than sad or weary. "Pay me 10,000 rupiah [US$1.04] and I'll push the boat from behind, you won't get wet. I took this boat to get to school this morning, you know," she called out cheerfully when seeing a pedestrian trying to wade through the floodwater.

Cindy said that she and her friends loved it when it flooded, as they suddenly "have a private swimming pool" in front of their homes. "The floods don't worry me," she said, explaining that she was born there and is accustomed to the weekly inundations of the rainy seasons.

Kampung Pulo, which is situated by the Ciliwung River, is one of several flood-prone areas in the capital that gets the runoff from more elevated areas like Bogor and Depok, West Java, during the rainy season.

Jakarta Governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said in a meeting at the National Monument (Monas) Park early this month that the low-lying capital was 90 per cent ready to face possible flooding during the current rainy season as his administration was coordinating with relevant agencies on how to handle the flooding.

The Jakarta Disaster Mitigation Agency announced several 24-hour hotline numbers on Monday for Jakartans to call and text for information and assistance during floods.

The agency's head, Arfan Arkilie, said that 26,111 people from 10 administrative working units were ready to assist with flood-related problems, with the Fire Department and the Jakarta Public Order Agency on the front line.

The recent flooding in Kampung Pulo underlines, however, that no matter how ready the administration might be to lend a hand, it is Jakarta's plucky and persistent public that determine whether their neighborhoods sink or swim.

Kampung Melayu subdistrict head Bambang Pangestu said that the area's residents kept abreast of water level reports from sluice gate officials in Bogor and Depok through announcements made by local mosques.

If the water level at the gates exceeds 80 to 150 centimetres of the normal level, 1-to 2-metre deep floods may occur in the area in between nine to 10 hours. Pangestu said that when the weekly rainy-season flooding occurred, everyone knew what to do.

"Those who have two-story houses move upstairs, while those with only one-story houses take refuge at shelters," Pangestu explained.

"Only 11 families are staying at the shelter we set up at nearby At Tawwabin mosque," he said.

He added that the city administration had extended aid in the form of two rubber dinghies, one wooden boat and medicines to his subdistrict. The East Jakarta branch of the Indonesian Red Cross also distributed meals for 1,067 families or nearly 3,000 residents of the subdistrict.

Pangestu said he was certain his community would get through this rainy season, just like it had survived many others. He cited the 2007 disaster when 70 per cent of the city was flooded, and 57 people were killed and more than 450,000 were displaced. "The residents came back, and put their lives back together again."

Their legendary resilience aside, Kampung Pulo residents said they would welcome any resolutions to the flooding that the Jakarta new governor, Jokowi, could manage.

Nurdin, who has lived in the area ever since he was born 50 years ago, said he had grown tired of the flooding because he lost his daily income as a tailor every time the floods came. Now the situation is even harder to bear as his wife recently had a stroke and can no longer walk.

"It would be nice if Jokowi could really stop the annual flood. I know that he is newly elected and there's no instant solution for the floods, but I am willing to wait and see," he said.

Jokowi said on Monday that the city's flooding issue was a very complicated problem and as such would take a long time to overcome.

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