The Escape

Voices from the Future | Rezza Aji Pratama

The Escape

 The Event: On December 31, 2019, torrential rains pounded a swath of Jakarta. More than 400,000 people fled their homes, and 65,000 were relocated to damp evacuation centers in the greater Jakarta area. The intense rain and flooding killed about 60 people, out of which 17 were swept away by the waters, five were buried by landslides and five were electrocuted.

The river runs 650 feet behind Rezza Aji Pratama’s house in the greater Jakarta Depok neighborhood. It is a comfortable, middle-class area with single houses lining the streets. On New Year’s Eve, Pratama and his wife invited people over to celebrate the new decade.

“I had my friend, his wife and two babies at our house,” says Pratama, a 30-year-old freelance journalist. “Around 1 p.m., it started to rain very hard. Usually when it rains here, it is a downpour, the river overflows, and we get the floods around my house. The next morning around 8:30, the water started to enter my house. Soon it was up to my knees. The water was climbing even higher, up to my chest, and I am almost 5 feet, 8 inches tall. We evacuated the babies to the second floor to be safe.”

Pratama was born and raised in Jakarta, but this was the worst flooding he’s ever experienced. In fact, it was the worst in Jakarta in 24 years.

“There wasn’t much we could do other than stay inside,” he says. ”We talked to each other on our neighborhood Facebook group and asked for an advice what to do. We moved furniture upstairs. I became really worried about the babies’ safety, so I took a container and put the babies in it. We went outside and started to walk to higher ground. The water was still everywhere. I saw happy children. They didn’t care; they swam in the water. I saw some people evacuating their houses. It took an hour for us to find safer ground, and finally, by 2 p.m., the water started to recede.”

Pratama doesn’t see how he and his wife can build their future in Jakarta if they have children. Jakarta’s air is very polluted, and the floods are becoming more and more frequent. Pratama’s parents still live in the same flood-prone South Tangerang area where he grew up, and they are pressing the young couple to start a family soon.

“My parents don’t want to leave,” he says. “They agree that the weather has become more unpredictable, but they enjoy their life in their familiar and tightknit neighborhood. “

Still, reminders of the dangerous floods keep popping up. Several days after the serious January flood, another downpour occurred, and Pratama was woken up to very loud thunder. “I jumped out of my bed, scared,” he says. “’Is it the floods again?’ It is a frightening feeling, and you really start to worry for your family. I saw my neighbors in the streets straight out of their sleep. Some moved their cars to safety. I thought about how the weather is scaring us all.”

But what can Pratama do? One response is to pressure his government and world leaders to act on reducing carbon emissions to minimize their impact on climate change. Additionally, in his articles on environmental changes, Pratama sheds light on issues that affect his fellow Indonesians profoundly.

“I just spent time with clove farmers at Ambon Island in the Moluccas,” he says. “The farmers have done clove farming for hundreds of years on the island, but lately the farming has become very susceptible to the changes of the weather. The clove tree is very sensitive to the rainy and dry seasons. In 2015, El Niño had catastrophic consequences – their clove production decreased 70 percent. It’s heartbreaking to hear how the farmers worry about their livelihood. I need to write about this issue now. That’s where I can have my impact.“

— Kirsi-M. Hayrinen-Beschloss