Although today (Monday) the weather seems to be improving a bit – the risk of another deluge seems by consensus of my esteemed colleagues at around 50%. But that is before the influence of the local soothsayers and psychics have been taken into account. Given the existing flood, the fact that several sluice gates surrounding the city are at, or over capacity, this is a precarious state of affairs. Reports put the displaced at 200,000, then that was revised upwards quickly to 300,000. Certainly the earlier figure I would not disagree with. I live in a street not in a particularly hard hit section of Jakarta, and there would be more than 500 displaced.
Indonesian men walk past abandoned cars on a flooded street in Jakarta yesterday. Picture: AAP Image/AP
The numbers of displaced, like the general population of the greater Jakarta area, will never be known. You just can’t track such a diaspora of humanity. The worst effected are the very poorest and not “officially” living in Jakarta “legally”. They come from the very poor parts of Indonesia, in particular central Java in search of a better life. Once in Jakarta without money for accommodation or food, they end up on the shanty towns along river banks, canals and other flood prone areas.This time however, the water knows no boundaries. Rich, poor, middle class alike find themselves trudging the same flooded lane ways to higher ground. No one is quite sure if there is worse to come. One could expect water borne disease to increase. Given the unbelievably filthy state of Java’s waterways it is almost a given. The Javanese are a remarkably hardy lot and generally in remarkably rude health given the general poverty and living conditions. They will survive, and probably would not blink if the death toll remained below the few thousand mark. Then again – the number will never be known, and if it were, it would be doubtful if the political elite would let that cat of the bag (unless of course it would encourage more aid they could plunder). Is the current mess avoidable? If you’ve been in a tropical downpour that’s common to the region you could conclude that flooding is unavoidable unless everyone had 20ft deep roadside gutters. However in Jakarta’s situation the rich mix of bureaucratic incompetence, rampant endemic corruption, callous indifference and incomprehensible stupidity all have contributed greatly to the current state of affairs. The failures are too large to note in detail, canals not build, pumps not installed, money stolen, planning ignored. But as the good governor of Jakarta Sutiyoso has said, “we didn’t make the rain”. But then again, maybe even grasping at that straw of denial is tainted. Prior to the flooding that started last week it was reported that the administration had started seeding rain clouds to encourage precipitation to help fill reservoirs that were falling low. But that’s Jakarta. Just when you think that you have seen the full and disastrous incompetence of governance, along comes another pearl that boggles the mind and resets the landscape in the surreal world of Javanese administration.
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