Monday, 4 February 2008

ANNUAL FLOODS IN JAKARTA

Flooding has become part of life in this town. Each year without fail, Jakartans have to live through the same old routine. Evacuating from homes, if the government makes that possible, or living in without electricity and fresh water. And every year, something new and some place new will be affected by the floods. This year hasn't been different.

The toll road going to the international airport is flooded. TV footage of foreigners and local passengers along with their luggage being ferried on rubber rafts across a section of the flooded thoroughfare is such an embarrassment for a city like Jakarta. They have to wade through water to get onto those rubber rafts and then wade out to catch the buses to the terminal.

And then they introduced trucks, the ones they normally use for garbage collection. They're quite high; and passengers, male and female alike, will have to be helped up those trucks without ladders or other improvised steps. But at least they can keep dry, compared to wading to the rubber raft.

The airport was closed for a few hours. Flights were delayed. Outbound passengers who got to the airport before the flooding had to eat lunch and dinner at the terminal before their flights resumed. Inbound passengers who got in after the airport re-opened were stranded as taxis and other forms of public transportation could not reach the airport. For those who managed to hop onto some form of 4-wheeler, their journey is another 5 or more hours.

Sections of the toll roads, or expressways in other parts of the city are flooded too. Once you are jammed on the toll road, there is no way out. This time around, the main city toll road was jammed up for up to 7 or 8 hours. Drivers and their passengers had to resort to making their toilet breaks just outside their cars, sheltered from public eyes by opened car doors.

And gangsters and others out to make a quick buck have their field day. Kids will be collecting healthy fees for helping to push stalled vehicles. Others help to stop traffic and let vehicles do their U-turns to seek alternative routes to their destinations. Gangsters openly knock on windows and windscreens to collect their dues from log jammed vehicles. Street peddlers sell anything from bottled water to bread at inflated prices to desperate commuters.

So why pay the toll for usage of these roads? Or are they paying a fee for parking there for all those hours?

Even the President is not spared this year. His car got stuck on a main city road and he had to get onto his bodyguards' SUV!

Poor lowly paid workers in the city who managed to get to work prior to flooding end their day walking for miles to get to the next available bus on dry land which is still operating to get home. It's not uncommon for them, after a hard and long day's work, to walk and commute for 5 or more hours just to get home.

Although Jakarta has just elected a new governor, he was nowhere to be seen during the floods. Nor has he made any plans about what he will do to alleviate this regular affair.

In any other part of the world, this would have been declared an emergency, which would have allowed the government to utilise all resources, including those of the military to assist its citizens. With those resources, the military's trained engineers could have built temporary bridging using steel ramps and plates which they surely must have in their warehouse, the kind the Indonesian or any military in the world will have for bridging rivers in a war. Indonesia doesn't need to live with the embarrassment of an inaccessible international airport, nor suffer the economic losses of lost manhours and productivity.

I know Indonesians to be proud and determined people. But when it comes to the annual flooding, Jakartans somehow seemed either to willingly leave their fates in the hands of God or resigned to the fact that this is a part of the cost of living in this capital city of theirs.

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