The Jakarta Post
The year has started off on a tragic note, as over 170,000 people have found themselves displaced by the floods in Greater Jakarta, West Java, mainly Bekasi, and Banten provinces. In the capital, hundreds of public buildings, including schools and several Transjakarta bus stops, have become makeshift shelters for residents as weather forecasts have warned of more rainfall this month.
Reports revealed overwhelmed emergency services as a number of people, including infants, had to wait up to 12 hours or more for help on rooftops. Apart from limited rubber dinghies, access to their areas was also cut off by the floodwater, slowing evacuation. As of Friday, the death toll from the floods had reached 43, with 35 in Greater Jakarta alone.
Victims have every right to demand who is responsible and why they are not getting immediate help. Millions of people, however, are comfortably out of the water; and they are among those hurling the blame at local and central authorities. Fortunately, a few reminded each other to stop the abuse and check on how to help and where.
Besides private organizations, a number of individuals have opened public kitchens, preparing hundreds of food packages and sending them to shelters. Others are collecting donations and clothes for those in need. People living on higher ground are accommodating relatives whose homes and belongings have gone under the mud.
With only 1 percent of the country’s population of 270 million having any kind of insurance, home insurance is among their lowest priorities, despite living in this disaster-prone nation. Most victims are likely to be the poor who are barely able to pay their health insurance premiums on time.
Nevertheless, building awareness on what it takes to live with surrounding risks will have to wait another day. In the event of more extreme downpours, people need to join the volunteers, even as police and military personnel are doing everything they can to rescue families.
Exhausted victims who have chosen to return home would really appreciate help in cleaning up mud-filled houses and furniture. The risk of waterborne diseases is already threatening victims.
As thunderstorms are expected to continue, the governments of the capital and its buffer cities of Bogor, Tangerang, Depok and Bekasi also need to do everything they can to assist each other for the sake of people’s safety. Decades have passed without the realization of plans to better manage these neighboring provinces where rivers and floods flow across their borders.
Experts have told us to expect this new normal of what many thought was freak weather when the heavens poured nonstop on New Year’s Eve. This means cooperation and coordination between neighbors is urgently needed. The regents, mayors and governors of the flooded areas must pick up on the spirit of their people who only see desperate neighbors in need.
Even if President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is rushing plans for a new capital in East Kalimantan, Greater Jakarta will still be the chosen home for millions.
They cannot be abandoned just because moving seems to be the only hope to end the metropolis’ chronic catastrophes.