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On New Year’s Eve, Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, was hit by the worst flooding since 2013. The disaster caused damages and insecurity across the metropolitan area, pushing thousands of families to try to temporarily relocate. Unfortunately, transportation systems were paralysed. The Transportation Ministry’s air transportation Director-General, Polana B. Pramesti, closed the Halim Perdanakusuma Airport because its runways were inundated by up to 80 centimeters of water. According to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), at least seven sub-districts in Jakarta were pounded by floods.

Jakarta has long known to be vulnerable to ruinous floods. Empirical evidence shows 95 percent of North Jakarta will expectedly submerge by 2050. This is part of what motivated President Joko Widodo to announce on 26th August 2019 that the nation’s capital will be relocated and that a sea wall will be built around the central city. However, the majority of national financial and infrastructural assets have primarily been invested in Jakarta since the country’s independence in 1945. The long-term relocation of the national assets and over 10 million local dwellers to from Jakarta to other regions will be onerous.

While the relocation of the capital is a massive and long-term undertaking, this article proposes several short- and mid-term solutions that focus on strengthening the government’s capacity for environmental management of Jakarta. If undertaken, they can significantly help slow down the rise of sea levels.

Firstly, the government has to set up regulations to fine organisations who throw the garbage into the rivers. Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti reported that Indonesians throw 260 million tons of plastic waste into the ocean and river basin areas every year, making it the world’s second-biggest plastic waste polluter of seas and rivers after China. The large amount of waste thrown into the ocean and rivers significantly raises the sea levels in Jakarta and throughout the island nation. Due to the absence of penalties to throw garbage into the rivers, the government should consider fining individuals who discharge waste into the rivers, as to discourage organisations from polluting.

Secondly, the government should clear housing alongside the waterways. Jakarta has 14 rivers, where poor slum residents cluster. Slum dwellers often discard their rubbish into the rivers, worsening the floods that inundate Jakarta every year during the months-long rainy season. In the short-term, trash discarded by slum dwellers should be collected and sent to Bantar Gebang, a major landfill south-east of Jakarta in the Bekasi district. In the mid-term, the government should help slum households relocate to alternative inland areas, in order to minimise their environmentally-unfriendly behaviours which could put the city further at stake.

Thirdly, the government should curb the infrastructural development of Jakarta and instead focus resources on the city’s water infiltration systems. Jakarta is currently sinking, largely due to the over-extraction of groundwater. The weight of buildings constructed, especially in the past two decades, has compressed the ground. This rapid development of infrastructure in these past twenty years has also decreased the amount of green open space in the city. 15 years ago, 28 percent of Jakarta was a green area, compared to only 6.6 percent of the capital today. Green areas are important environmental resources that help facilitate water infiltration. With the rapid-decreasing green areas within the city, flooding will occur more often in the foreseeable future.

In the coming years, the government must take legal, social, and environmental actions to better manage the operation and development of Jakarta, slowing down the rise of sea levels as best as they can. Since national and foreign investments and corporations are predominantly located in Jakarta, a complete relocation of the city is time-consuming and cost-ineffective. It cannot be seen as the sole response to the rise of sea levels.

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