Inundated: Facing the Jakarta floods

It seemed like an ordinary Friday, I had decided to grab a bite at the mall situated just behind my house. It had been raining steadily for the past few days but it all seemed normal. Until I saw the endless traffic that had amassed adjacent to the mall entrance, it didn’t move an inch – for seven hours. The news the next day reported that unlucky motorists were kept at bay until the early morning hours and in some situations, overnight. The rain had caused flooding in key parts of the city and in some cases; the level of water was as high as 20 inches. Over 300,000 residents had to leave their homes and the final death toll stands at about 142.

I had been fortunate enough to live in an area that was saved from the flooding but some of the people I know weren’t as fortunate. My cousin’s daily post-work trip includes a cross-city bus ride but since the flooding had left major roads inaccessible, he was forced to walk home, highlighted by a brisk swim in a severely flooded roadway. Businesses, houses and all sorts of buildings were hit; perhaps one of the worst cases was the Four Seasons Regent Hotel. My uncle being of a high position there has not had a moments rest since. Three sub-levels of the hotel were completely submerged under water; a cruel mix of rain, river and mud inundated the lobby area and ground floor. Cars parked in the basement levels are still buried under water, power generators, computer lines and optic cables destroyed and everything from carpeting to the walls are now useless and have to be replaced. Needless to say, the damage is devastating and early estimates have the cost of repair to be at about $US40 million and will leave the hotel inoperable for the next 6 to 12 months.

Much of the blame has fallen with the government. Not just the current office but also those preceding it, most notably the infamous Suharto regime. Corruption led to poor infrastructure, irrigation and early warning systems that have now victimized the millions. With such a poor response to such drastic events, the people have taken it upon themselves to help those in need. You can’t drive around the city without spotting a local help center, awaiting donations of food, clothes and money. Volunteers have helped with the massive clean up duties and have provided shelter for those hardest hit. All this while the government has yet to lift a finger with any form of assistance that is so sorely needed.

Although the flooding has somewhat subsided, heavy rain falls continuously and with much of the city still under water, the long lasting effects of these floods on the national economy will be crippling. To a country ravaged by political unrest, corruption and a national debt exceeding US$70 billion, it’s one that cannot be overlooked. Unfortunately, with my experience, the likely result wills that of government officials counting their opportunities to cash in on such a situation. Much of the relief will rest upon those who volunteer and to those generous enough to donate.