As of 4 January 2019, the largest rainfall in decades in Indonesia has resulted in 60 dead, one missing and around 175,000 people being evacuated from their homes. Indonesia’s Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) announced that this bout of weather is the worse to be seen in over 20 years. The blame for this crisis falls mainly on climate change, which has led to no end in sight for the torrential rainfall until late February.
Bekasi, a Jakartan suburb, has been hit the hardest by the floods, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency. National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Agus Wibowo confirmed that most of the fatalities included those who had drowned or been electrocuted, while three senior citizens died of hypothermia. The spokesman also stated that the government has started seeding rain clouds with chemicals in a bid to reduce rainfall in greater Jakarta by about 20 per cent.
This environmental catastrophe has arrived in stark contrast to the raging bushfires in Australia, highlighting the increasing polarity of the terrible crises climate change creates. Natural disasters have been ballooning in number across the world, and while Indonesia is not a stranger to earthquakes, landslides and other crises, the intensity and early timing of these floods have been shocking. It is important to note that the poor and marginalised who are almost always disproportionately affected by natural disasters. Indonesia suffers from great income disparity and almost all the victims of the floods were those without adequate shelter. This fact must be addressed. Disasters can lead to conflict as grievances and resentment grow due to the disruption of people’s lives. Human rights issues such as violence and discrimination can be exacerbated in these desperate times. Hence the authorities have to be prudent in their disaster response as more catastrophes can be expected in the near future.
Jakarta, situated on the island of Java, is currently home to the Indonesian government and more than 30 million people. Known as Indonesia’s busiest city, it has also been bestowed an unfortunate title, the fastest-sinking city in the world. Rising sea levels due to global warming have put millions of Indonesians at risk of losing their homes and lives. Floods are commonplace during the monsoon months, namely December and January, but the crisis is more severe compared to previous years. 400,000 people have sought refuge from the floods across the greater Jakarta area while almost 200,000 have been evacuated to emergency shelters in the Bekasi region. Space is so scarce in evacuation camps that kitchens have to be removed at night to make space for sleeping residents. According to The Straits Times, food is in short supply and many camps lack proper sanitation. These conditions have to improve as many evacuees are concerned that the danger will not ebb soon, as a series of small floods usually occurs in middle to late January and will become bigger in February.
The authorities have made a swift response to reduce the damage the floods have caused but constant rain and increasing numbers of mudslides have made conditions difficult for aid workers to search for the missing and dead. As the death toll rises and flooding continues, Indonesia’s government has to make more effective efforts to combat the worst monsoon season in two decades as the world watches. Meanwhile, Indonesians should brace themselves for deadlier natural disasters in coming years as climate change continues to make its unmistakable mark on our planet.