Where do rich people live in Jakarta

Jakarta is sinkingA city digs its own water away

A quarter in the north of Jakarta, geese and ducks run around between small children and mopeds, there is water in a few puddles on the street, and if you look where the liquid is coming from, you quickly come across a thick wall with rivulets running down it. The wall has different layers in different shades of gray, it leaks - and is pretty meaningful, finds Victor Coenen:

"It is built on the old sea wall, here you can see the height from 2007. This height was from 2012, then there was a new layer in 2014 and now the big increase from 2017. It is a whole layering of sea walls.

Like archeology, but you usually see layers like this for thousands of years, it's only a decade here. And the wall is leaking, because the foundation wall is not particularly well built. The rising water levels put more pressure on the wall, and that's why there are leaks everywhere. "

Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, is sinking. Year after year, in some quarters it is a quarter of a meter, in others it is ten centimeters, and many areas, like Muara Baru here on the protective wall, are already three to four meters below sea level. When the tide is high, the ships anchored on the other side look over the wall; if the big pumps don't work, the neighborhood is under water - the residents are used to:

"Yes, there is flooding during the rainy season, especially when the pumps fail," says fishmonger Suleiman. And the kiosk operator Susi adds:

"It really depends on the pump. When I was a child, the pump often didn't work, then there were always floods in the rainy season. That Jakarta is sinking - oh, I don't even notice it. It's normal. So far I don't think so. "

Good and bad water

Victor Coenen admires this attitude of Jakarta's residents. He is the project manager of the Dutch construction technology and consulting company Witteveen en Bos, here in Jakarta responsible for the project with the grandiose name "National Capital and Integrated Coastal Development Master Plan". This is to save Jakarta from sinking. The rescuers are faced with a seemingly absurd problem: the mega-city with ten million inhabitants is sinking because the city lacks the right water. And because other water cannot drain. So there is good water and bad water, illegal water and expensive water here.

To explain this, Victor Coenen takes a few steps back, temporally and geographically, from the protective wall of the quarter to the old lock gates, about 150 meters south of it:

"We are here at Jakarta's old outlet, which was built in the days of the Dutch colony, when the city was still well above sea level - at that time the water from the city could still flow unhindered into the sea. But then the city began to sink , and now the rivers and canals would have to go uphill to get into the sea. So we have to pump it out. "

Jakarta wants to fight the increasing risk of flooding with a sea wall. (AFP / Romeo Gacad)

Radical change in a city

A huge pumping station painted blue and yellow works here as well as in many other places in the north of Jakarta, otherwise the reservoirs and canals overflowed.

"That big pumping station up there has already been enlarged three times, because more and more water has to be pumped out because the city continues to sink and more water flows in. So this is a radical change in Jakarta from an old city high above sea level to a polder city like in the Netherlands. "

Then there is the main problem: three-quarters of Jakarta's residents have no water connection, they either rely on tankers or illegally drill wells for groundwater.

"You can see that in the cisterns on the roofs. Here in these areas, however, they cannot use the groundwater because it is already too salty, the seawater has penetrated."

The more groundwater is pumped out, the faster Jarkata sinks into the floods (dpa / EPA / Mast Irham)

A vicious circle

The more groundwater is pumped out, the more the city sinks, because the ground is swampy, and if the water is withdrawn from it, stability is lacking and the ground subsides. In addition, the sheer weight of the building presses against the soft ground.

"We still have a problem," explains Elisa Sutanudjaja from the Rujak Center for Urban Studies in Jakarta.

"Our water infrastructure is not good, there are a lot of leaks, 40 percent of the water from the pipes is lost. This is due to the privatization of the water supply. Provide water to Jakarta and other areas. "

Floods in Jakarta (imago images / ZUMA Press)

The water makes no distinction between rich and poor

But because that is not the case, the residents continue to illegally tap into the groundwater and the soil continues to sag. Everything is sinking, including exclusive rich neighborhoods, industrial areas and warehouses as well as slums that keep popping up everywhere, even where they have just been cleared. The poorest cannot afford rents, however low they may be, so they build their homes where it costs nothing: on water reservoirs, on stinking stagnant rivers and canals, built on stilts in the water; and so buildings, dirt and rubbish block the drainage of the water in the drainage channels even more.

"Protecting Jakarta from the water - from a technical point of view that is not that difficult. But the social consequences are: If you want to relocate these people in social buildings, then they would have to pay around 13 euros rent - that is a ridiculous sum for us. but an unbelievable amount for them Flood protection in Jakarta is more of a socio-economic problem than a technical one. The part is simple. "

In Muara Baru, too, there is such a poor quarter over the water - made of plywood and scrap wood, plastic sheeting and banners. Dark corridors lead from hut to hut, a small kiosk sells tea and sweets; Agus and hundreds of other fishermen live here with their families, as well as:

"As for the future of this area: it will be reclaimed land when the lagoon is filled in. But I don't know whether it will be soon or in ten years. I also don't know whether we villagers will be resettled in social housing or somewhere else entirely . "

They go wherever the government sends them, says Agus, but they have to take care of them. He says that they used to experience more floods, and that it got better with the ever higher protective walls. The latest was also further off the coast and included a small lagoon. However, the disadvantage is that their ships are now on the other side of the wall and they therefore have to walk there first.

Jakarta sinks between 7.5 and 17 centimeters annually - ten times as fast as the sea level rises (imago-images / Pacific Press Agency)

There is not enough water for everyone

While he was talking, the little girl next to him had a sweet drink from a plastic bag and then simply dropped the package into the water. The smell of garbage and sewer is deafening - where do the residents get clean water from?

Susi, for example, buys her water from a tanker.

"The problem is that not only the residents need water, but also the industry," explains Victor Coenen. And a lot of it. So far there is not enough water for everyone. So we want to recycle this black water that we see here , clean; then we can convince the industry to switch from groundwater to surface water. "

Improving the water supply, securing existing protective walls, that is the direction of the move. Is that enough to preserve Jakarta? In addition, the city is working with a Japanese agency, Jica, says urban planner Elisa Sutanudjaja.

"They also want to stop subsidence by teaching people how to use water more consciously, they want to ban it, impose penalties and introduce stricter controls. That is supposed to start in the coming year, so we will see how it works. Finally they are leaving this problem. "

A house like a hobbit's dwelling

Some houses in the most sinking districts look like hobbit dwellings, the roof or balcony are at head height, residents like Suleiman can only walk with bowed heads into rooms whose ceiling they could not reach with their hands some time ago . A mosque has sunk one meter in five years. The building contractor Pak Suandi has lived in northern Jakarta for 40 years.

"When I moved here in 1978, the protective wall was only 40 centimeters high; since then they have raised it three times; the water flows over from time to time when the tide is very high. The last elevation was even half a meter. "

Benefit from the sinking of the city

Suandi himself is doing well with the city's sinking - his company is often hired to dredge canals or drain land. He points to the excavators and trucks that are behind the old wall.

"This is my company. If the water rises too high and flows over, then we just make the wall a little higher in our house, then we have a while."

Not far from here is a hexagonal building exposed to the floods, the prayer room of a factory. The Java Sea surrounds it and sloshes against the new flood protection wall that was built behind it.

A moped drives along the narrow crest of the wall. There could be something like this on a larger scale in the near future, maybe in ten or 20 years: a large passable protective wall, similar to the dike on the IJsselmeer in Holland. Far out from Jakarta, it would break the waves and best serve as a link between the international airport and the cargo port.

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo plans to move his government to the island of Borneo in 2024 (picture alliance / dpa / Kyodo / MAXPPP)

Designed as a toll road, the proceeds would ideally finance the measures against the sinking of the city. But that is still a long way off and is only the last chance when all other lifeline failures. By then Jakarta will likely lose its capital city status because a new capital city is to be built on the island of Borneo by 2024. This is how President Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, announced:

"We have done a lot of research and have intensified our studies over the past three years. It is therefore the ideal location for the new capital in East Kalimantan."

It is an undefined large area in a not yet too developed province in the east of Borneo. Kalimantan is the name of the Indonesian part of the largest island in Asia; the other parts belong to Malaysia and Brunei. East Kalimantan is nowhere near as glamorous as Jakarta - but it is safer than many other areas of Indonesia because that has a geological problem: The country stretches over 5,000 kilometers from east to west along the Pacific Ring of Fire. This zone is particularly active tectonically, here several plates collide, the geophysical forces cause many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and subsequently tsunamis and landslides. Last Christmas before Java, a year ago on Sulawesi, or last summer on Lombok and Bali, thousands of people died in such disasters.

Jakarta was also only shaken by an earthquake at the beginning of August. The island of Borneo is outside the ring of fire, which is why President Jokowi emphasized in his capital decision:

"The new location has minimal risk of natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, forest fires, volcanic eruptions and landslides. Second, the location is strategically chosen because it is in the middle of Indonesia."

New capital as a symbol of progress and justice

The allegation that Jakarta is drawing too much government attention is old. 30 million people live in the metropolitan area, and more than half of all Indonesians live on the whole of Java, the island on which Jakarta is located. The rest often feel neglected by the government. Hence the sign of the move - suggested by the first President of Indonesia, Sukarno. But Jokowi now wants to be the one who succeeds. For this he asked for Allah’s blessing in parliament.

"A capital city is not only a symbol of national identity, it also represents the progress of a nation. This step realizes economic equality and justice."

Big city expert Elisa Sutanudjaja doesn't believe that at all. On the one hand, Indonesia, with its 70-year history, should be old enough not to need symbols. On the other hand, she thinks:

"Relocating the capital will definitely not eliminate the inequality; and it will not improve Jakarta's problems either. The city is simply too big, the capital move will have no effect."

"Here is my life"

Jakarta was simply never a good place to live and build a city here, says dike planner Victor Coenen, so it is understandable to relocate the seat of government.

Jakarta is located on low, hot, hard-to-build marshland, not necessarily the best place to build a city - but ports do attract business and activity. And that is why many people will continue to come to Jakarta and seek their happiness. One and a half million people are expected to move to Borneo with the government. But they are quickly replaced. And most of the more than ten million residents stay here, like the fish seller Ibu Patona from a small neighborhood on the water:

"This is my life, I sell my goods here, I can't move because I feel it's better to stay. But if Jokowi wants to move, he can decide that."

Jokowi sees the vision of an advanced and progressive Indonesia in the relocation plans. A new smart green capital is to be built, construction will start in 2021, three years later the first government officials are to move. Kalimantan is largely covered by jungle, it is home to several endangered animal species, orangutan, sun bear and long-nosed monkey just a few of them. Environmentalists fear that a new city in the middle of the province could put them even more at risk. Because here too many people would be attracted to a new center. The contractor Suandi says:

"The president can decide what he wants, because he's a good president, otherwise the people wouldn't have voted him. He can go anywhere with the government - as long as someone is still taking care of Jakarta. And someone who knows what he does."

The fight against sinking continues

The Jakarta bailout plan will continue as the country's business and financial center will remain here. Victor Coenen, the City of Jakarta and the Ministry of Civil Engineering are fighting to provide all residents with clean water. And so prevent them from drilling illegal wells. Suandi sees the whole thing as relaxed: If the city continues to sink, he simply builds the wall in front of his company a bit higher.