The Jakarta Floods

Voices from the Future | Faradilla Fajrin Al-Fath

The Jakarta Floods

The Event: On December 31, 2019, torrential rains pounded a swath of Jakarta. More than 400,000 people were affected, 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. Landslides buried five people, and five people were electrocuted. 

When Faradilla Fajrin Al-Fath left Jakarta to attend Arizona State University in 2018, she thought she could leave her hometown floods behind. But she was wrong. Being in America revealed to her how serious an issue the floods actually are.

“We used to have a five-year flood,” says Al-Fath, a second-year public administration student. “But not anymore. The floods are much more unpredictable. I grew up in metro Jakarta, and I’d like to say that my people are resilient, but the truth is, many are hopeless. They just carry on in the face of the recurring floods. The latest one surrounded my parents’ house with muddy and trashy waters. They and my sister couldn’t leave the house for few days.”

The yearly floods are a norm in metro Jakarta and date back to colonial times, over a hundred years ago. The Jakarta metropolitan area, which today is one of Asia’s largest urban districts with an estimated 30 million inhabitants, has also started to subside. Forty percent of its land mass is below sea level.

When Al-Fath was a child, she and her family lived in unsustainable housing on illegally occupied government land along the Sabi River. It connects to the Cisadane River, which runs through metropolitan Jakarta. The area in the eastern part of Jakarta has closed to half a million residents and is most prone to damage from the floods.

“I think the concept of privilege really matters in the face of natural disaster,” Al-Fath says. “My family was renting a place there until I was 5 years old. Once we could afford a mortgage, we moved to my parents’ suburban house in Kota Tangerang. It is safeguarded against floods. I still have childhood friends who live in illegal areas and have been there three or four generations down. Their houses are poorly built, and they have no insurance. Homes get flooded and are full of mud. They live in the areas that people shouldn’t be living. But it is very hard to get them to move away because of the legal and ethical issues. They’ve lived there for a very long time. It’s their home.”

After graduating from college in Jakarta, Al-Fath used to work for the government’s housing and water services. There, she experienced the issues firsthand.

“First, there are so many extremely vulnerable areas in my city,” she says. “I am convinced we cannot afford to not do anything about the issue. Take water, for example. We must provide the people the water services because water is a human right. Secondly, new, very nice houses —with safe playgrounds for kids and everything you need for good living — were built and offered to evicted people to live in. But within a month, they moved back because the new area didn’t offer livelihood. They had small business, like making food or baking and they just couldn’t find customers in these new areas.”

For her own future, Al-Fath doesn’t see herself moving back to Jakarta to start a family there. She praises her country for taking big economic steps forward — thanks to advancements in the technology sector— but the environmental issues have been neglected.

“I’d feel hypocritical to say I’d like to be part of the change because the truth is, living in Jakarta wouldn’t be good for my mental and physical wellbeing,” she says. “My country has recognized the problem with trash and that we have to go green — whatever it means. I am also concerned about our indigenous people and the wildlife on the Borneo and the Sumatra islands. Our government pays attention when there is smoke after the forest burning, but when the smoke is gone and it rains, they forget what just happened and nothing is done.”

Additionally, Al-Fath doesn’t want to age or get sick prematurely in the polluted and stressful city life that Jakarta offers.

”Jakarta’s traffic is so horrible,” she says. “When I worked downtown, I spent three to four hours in the traffic congestion every day. The pollution is very bad. My 55-year-old father, who used to commute for work for years, looks so lethargic and old. I hope he lives up to 75, but I’m not sure he’ll make it. No, I cannot go back because the problems are so complex in Jakarta and in my country and I don’t know how and when they can be solved.”

                                                              — Kirsi-M. Hayrinen-Beschloss