The first day of 2020 was an unforgettable start to the new decade for many residents of Greater Jakarta, as the megapolis was crippled with severe flooding following hours of torrential rains.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and House of Representatives Speaker Puan Maharani called on officials to focus on rescuing flood victims on Thursday. Government data shows that 26 people have died, most by drowning. Others were electrocuted or succumbed to hypothermia.
Jokowi ordered the central and provincial governments to coordinate their efforts with regency and city administrations to mitigate the impacts of the disaster.
“The most important thing is to move the victims [to safety]. The safety and security of the people must be prioritized. We will work on matters [related to] flood management infrastructure later, after the evacuation is finished,” he said.
His statement rang particularly true after tensions simmered between Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan and Public Works and Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono about what had caused the disaster.
Anies had put a stop to a ministry project that aimed to install concrete sheet piles along the Ciliwung River because it would require the eviction of illegal settlements to make way for inspection roads. That program, Basuki pointed out, would have been crucial for flood mitigation.
On Wednesday and Thursday, reports flooded social media of residents being stranded on the roofs of their homes for up to 12 hours without food or dry clothes while waiting for search and rescue officers. Meanwhile, many who have been rescued face another threat: lack of food and clean water.
The National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) reported difficulties reaching several areas in Bekasi in West Java and Tangerang in Banten as flooding had cut off access.
The agency was overwhelmed by requests for evacuation, as it had only 13 teams available for Greater Jakarta on Wednesday. To make matters worse, some of the agency’s dinghies were damaged after hitting metal fences and other sharp objects.
In challenging times like these, arguments will only delay the delivery of aid for those who need it the most. All parties should work hand-in-hand to ensure the safety of victims; it is not the time for politics when so many lives are at stake.
Popularity contests among politicians should never get in the way of a healthy and scientific discussion of how to mitigate floods — which have for decades haunted Jakarta and its outskirts.
Only when the dust has settled can the people of Greater Jakarta have an honest conversation about feasible solutions to Jakarta’s flooding problem and how best to handle the disaster next time it strikes.
For now, those displaced by the flood need shelter and food and later assistance to restore their lives. Nor can we neglect the risk of outbreaks of waterborne diseases.
However, the worst may be yet to come as the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has warned that extreme weather may continue this month.