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Call To Move Indonesian Capital After Deadly Floods

Jakarta under water. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Bhimanto Suwastoyo
Jakarta (AFP) Feb 8, 2007
A leading political party is calling for the Indonesian capital to be relocated following severe floods which have displaced hundreds of thousands of people and claimed 50 lives. The floods which have submerged much of Jakarta for the past week have triggered a torrent of demands and pressure on the government to ensure it never happens again.

The National Awakening Party, the third-largest in parliament, said the floods had shown how seriously government activities could be disrupted.

"Jakarta is now too chaotic, and its ability to support both the centre of the country's government and the centre of the country's economy is declining," Muhaimin Iskandar, who heads the party in parliament, told AFP Thursday.

"Many other countries have a separate government seat and business centre," he said.

"Jakarta will stagnate otherwise, and it will no longer be able to support such a large population," he said.

But moving the capital was "too simplistic" a solution for legislator Bomer Pasaribu.

He said lax implementation of land zoning laws was to blame for the degradation of the environment, which was a major cause of the floods.

"It is about time we put some order into our chaotic management, be it that of the government or of our environment," he said.

Parliament, he said, was coincidentally now debating a new draft zoning law that would provide punishment for those who violated zoning laws and those who issued the permits, in this case the authorities.

"The old 1992 law only punished the violators, while government officials who allowed the violations to happen were untouched," Pasaribu said.

Jakarta governor Sutiyoso, who has run the city since 1997, including during deadly 2002 floods, has come under fire from residents who say he failed to anticipate the floods, and then did not organise an efficient relief effort.

Sutiyoso has dismissed the criticism and blamed the floods as "a cyclical five-yearly natural phenomenon."

"If the authorities know this is a cyclical phenomenon, then they have utterly failed to take the necessary preparations. The emergency relief this time was appalling," said Chalid Muhammad, executive director of Walhi, Indonesia's leading environmental watchdog.

Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar has blamed the floods on excessive construction on water catchment areas in the city, which is criss-crossed by 13 rivers.

The minister said many developers had not paid enough attention to the ecological impact of their construction projects.

If current regulations were applied to the letter, 27 percent of the city should be reserved for green areas, not the nine percent that actually was, Husnah Zair, chairwoman of the Consumer Protection Institute, said.

"Now, tell me where it went wrong," she said, adding the authorities should immediately launch an audit of the implementation of the zoning and building laws in order to redress the problem.

Agusman Effendi, who heads the parliamentary commission on environmental issues, said the floods had provided momentum to press for a more comprehensive approach to land zoning and a coordinated policy for ecologically linked areas.

"But the government should also not lay the blame entirely on the city's water catchment areas upstream. Problems also abound downstream," Effendi said, citing bad waste management and flouted land use regulations.

The Jakarta office of the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute has opened a counter to receive public complaints against the government.

"It is partly to see whether we can file a class action suit against the government over the floods," said Hermawanto.

A similar effort to bring the government to court for negligence over the 2002 Jakarta floods failed after the court ruled the government had done its best to prevent and handle the disaster.

"The public needs to continuously and seriously pressure the government to act. The government, as we all know, suffers from the 'forget-quickly syndrome'," Walhi director Muhammad said.

earlier related report
Thousands Head Home As Floods Recede In Indonesian Capital
Jakarta (AFP) Feb 8 - Tens of thousands of people displaced by floods that have inundated the Indonesian capital for almost a week were Thursday beginning to leave emergency shelters and start the unpleasant task of cleaning out their mud-filled homes. Despite heavy rains across the city in the early hours of Thursday, water levels were continuing to fall in most areas.

"As of 6:00 this morning, there were only about 160,000 refugees left in registered shelters across the city," said an official at the city's crisis centre who did not wish to be named.

The official said they had no new figure for fatalities. According to the health ministry, 50 people died and at the height of the floods police said more than 340,000 people had fled their flooded homes.

But Ika from the Indonesian Red Cross said the situation was changeable.

"It is difficult to make a count of the number of displaced people at shelter points because the number tends to be fluid as people come and go depending on the situation," Ika said.

A health ministry official who toured the city early Thursday to check on medical arrangements for flood victims said there were far fewer displaced people in emergency shelters.

"There are definitively less people at the shelters I visited and after an aerial tour of the city this morning, judging by the fact that floods have receded significantly, most people must have already left the shelters to begin to clean up their homes," Rustam Pakaya from the ministry's crisis centre said.

Losses due to the floods were now estimated at 4.3 trillion rupiah (475 million dollars), up from 4.1 trillion rupiah earlier, the state Antara news agency said, quoting National Development Planning Agency deputy head Max Pohan.

He said the figure included losses in public infrastructure and those suffered by private residents but did not yet cover loss of business and other side-effects.

The Indonesian Traders Association said the prices of basic commodities such as rice, sugar, cooking oil and eggs had risen due to distribution problems.

"The distribution of goods to various markets is still disturbed by floods which have affected the region since seven days ago," association secretary Ngadiran said, according to Antara.

Cheap rice had risen from around 4,200 rupiah (46 cents) a kilogram (2.2 pounds) to 5,000 rupiah.

Police said only about eight areas remained impassable to normal traffic, compared with 30 the previous day.

The last train station to reopen, in West Jakarta, was due to resume services and flood victims sheltering there had been told to leave, RCTI television said.

Although their homes were no longer flooded, many residents were facing problems dealing with mud left in their houses by the receding water.

"There is no water for cleaning our home, all we can do for now is to push the sludge out of the house," said Wiweko Harjan whose house in Kelapa Gading, North Jakarta, was flooded under some 1.2 metres (four feet) of water for days.

Similar complaints were heard from returning flood victims in other areas, with the state Antara news agency quoting one resident in East Jakarta as hoping for more rains to flush the sludge and debris away from their residential area.

Residents' efforts to dry their sodden possessions were scuttled by the morning's heavy rains and following drizzle.

Old Batavia, the former colonial port under Dutch rule, from where Jakarta has expanded, was built on marshland and some areas of the capital are below sea level.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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