December 13, 2019 / 11:07 AM / 4 months ago

Crumbling seawall heightens worries over flood threat to Indonesian capital

JAKARTA (Reuters) - When part of a seawall protecting Jakarta collapsed last week near fisherman Awing Takalar’s shack it brought back bad memories of when another levee burst in 2007 and all his belongings were washed away.

A crumbled sea wall is pictured in an area affected by land subsidence and rising sea levels, in northern coast of Jakarta, Indonesia, December 9, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

Fortunately, the tides have not been high, and residents in the exposed section of the Indonesian capital’s northern shoreline have not been affected yet. But Takalar knows his luck could run out.

“My worry is that the water is higher than the land,” said Takalar, 46, who said he was concerned for the safety of his teenage daughter when she was alone in their one-roomed home in the poor Muara Baru area of Jakarta.

When the sea breached the levee 12 years ago, he took his family back to their home in Sulawesi.

“When it got better, I returned again,” he said, adding that once his daughter has finished school he might leave the area for good.

Jarot Widyoko, director of rivers and coasts at Indonesia’s public works and public housing ministry, said an investigation was underway into why a 170-metre stretch of the 2.3 km wall near Muara Baru was damaged. It was only built in the last few years.

The incident has thrown a spotlight on efforts to shore up parts of the low-lying city from being inundated in coming years.

Jakarta is slowly sinking due to an over-extraction of ground water causing subsidence, with rising sea levels making the threat of flooding even worse and pushing the city to come up with elaborate programs to protect residents.

In 2014, the government announced a plan to build a giant seawall along the coast as part of a $40 billion project to protect the city until 2030.

The planned seawall, which was part of what had been dubbed the “Great Garuda” for its resemblance to the wing span of the mythical bird, included a stalled plan to build a new city on a string of reclaimed islands in Jakarta bay.

The collapsed section is part of the first of three phases under the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development, which has come in for criticism from environmentalists concerned over the impact on the bay and for not fully addressing land subsidence.

Heri Andreas, an expert on land subsidence at the Bandung Institute of Technology, said land in Muara Baru was sinking at a rate of 12 cm (4.7 inches) per year, one of the fastest in Jakarta.

Uncontrolled extraction of groundwater in Jakarta over the years has caused layers of rock and sediment to slowly pancake on top of each other.

The government announced in August it intends to move the administrative capital to East Kalimantan province, on Borneo island, to relieve Jakarta from “a heavy burden” due to overcrowding and pollution.

Slideshow (11 Images)

Saryad, 59, a street-side vendor, who has lived in the area for four decades, recalled how since he was a kid the sea had now become higher than the road in the area.

But he admits he has few choices and will have to rely on the protection of the sea wall.

“My work is here, my home is here... Where else can I go anyway?”

Additional reporting by Reuters TV; Editing by Ed Davies and Simon Cameron-Moore

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