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Environmental damage exacerbates Jakarta flooding amid record rainfall

  • Record-breaking rainfall hit Jakarta and its satellite cities on New Year’s Eve, causing widespread flooding and leading to at least 19 deaths, authorities reported.
  • Officials have attributed the severity of the disaster to years of environmental damage and waste dumping in the city’s rivers.
  • The disaster has displaced more than 30,000 people, shut down an airport, and cut off some roads. More heavy rain is forecast through to next week.

JAKARTA — Flash floods triggered by the heaviest rains ever recorded in Jakarta wreaked havoc across the Indonesian capital and its satellite cities on the first day of the new year. Authorities have attributed much of the damage from the disaster, in which at least 19 people have died, to years of environmental degradation.

The downpour began on the night of Dec. 31 and continued into the following morning, causing rivers to spill over and cause widespread flooding across Greater Jakarta. The flooding has displaced more than 30,000 people, cut off electricity and piped water, severed a number of roads, and shut down one of the city’s two airports. The National Disaster Mitigation Agency, known as the BNPB, says 19 people have died in the disaster as of Jan. 2, although the minister of social affairs has reportedly put the death toll at 21. Some of the reported deaths were caused by drowning, landslides, electrocution and hypothermia.

Authorities have dispatched rescue teams to locations where floodwaters were reported as high as 2 meters (6 feet).

Residents in Bekasi, on Jakarta’s eastern fringe, leave their flooded homes. Image by Tirza Meggy/Mongabay Indonesia.

Speaking to reporters in Jakarta on Jan. 2, President Joko Widodo blamed a combination of environmental damage and waste dumping in rivers for the disaster. On his Twitter account, the president also cited delays in flood control infrastructure projects, noting that some of the projects had been held up since 2017 due to land acquisition issues.

The BNPB said environmental damage in upstream areas of the Ciberang River, one of more than a dozen waterways that weave through Jakarta from the mountains south of the capital, contributed to the overflow and flash floods.

“The rain on New Year’s Day was so extreme … causing massive floods,” the BNPB said in a statement published on Jan. 1. “This is not ordinary rain,” the agency added.

The national meteorological agency recorded 377 millimeters (14.8 inches) of rainfall during the period, and said it was the highest daily volume seen in Jakarta since records began in 1866.

A flooded neighborhood in Jakarta. Image courtesy of the Indonesian National Disaster Mitigation Agency.

More heavy rain across the Greater Jakarta area, home to some 30 million people, is expected to continue through Jan. 7, the meteorological agency said.

While floods are common in the Indonesian capital around this time of year, the current disaster is one of the deadliest in recent years. At least 50 people died in Jakarta’s deadliest floods in 2007; in 2012, much of the city’s downtown business district was flooded after canals overflowed. A commonly cited factor is the deforestation of the hilly upstream areas for residential and tourism developments. This has resulted in silt washing into the rivers, making them shallower downstream and more likely to overflow during heavy rains.

Jakarta itself is sinking at a record rate as a result of groundwater extraction. As such, floodwaters tend to stagnate in the city rather than wash out to sea quickly.

Flooding is one of the main reasons President Widodo wants to relocate the capital to the island of Borneo in the next few years.

A flooded house in East Jakarta on New Year’s Day. Image by Gilang/Mongabay Indonesia.

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