Jakarta – Urban Challenges Overview

Late in 2016, Human Cities Coalition commissioned a rapid scan of our two pilot cities in order to help frame and contextualise the specific urban challenges we work to address. To follow-up on this, and to begin making connections to foster the work of a lasting coalition, Directors Ronald Lenz and Fleur Henderson paid the pilot cities of Jakarta and Manila a visit. In this instalment we focus on Jakarta to offer further insight into the political context, living conditions, and urban challenges city residents face.

Indonesia – Jakarta’s urban profile

Jakarta is the capital city of Indonesia and with a population of well-over 11 million, it’s the world’s second largest city. The official metropolitan area is known as Jabodetabek – a  name formed by combining the initial syllables of Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Tangerang, and Besaki areas. What many people do not realize is that wider Jakarta, or Jabodetabek, is sinking. While Jakarta owes its existence and growth to its waterfront location and geography – for centuries the natural harbour along North Jakarta has been an important port for Hindu, Muslim and then Dutch colonizers as well as local fishing communities – it is now threatened by the very water defines it.

Jakarta by night

The rapid pace of urbanization in Jakarta has given rise to multiple problems such as floods, traffic congestion, poverty and inequality. Yet Jakarta faces some unique water infrastructure challenges due to the 13 rivers that feed into it. Large swaths of the city sit below sea level, with some places sinking 25cm per year (on average 5-10cm). This means flooding and the ensuing pollution are a constant – if not life-threatening – challenge for the many low income inhabitants that currently call places like North Jakarta home. Floods are a perennial issue that occur yearly. Large floods, like the ones in 2007, caused billions of USD dollars in losses and claimed the lives of over 50 people. The 2007 floods served as a definitive wake-up call to both the local government and international community that action to save the city from water could no longer wait. Today urgent action is still needed.

Floods occur in Jakarta for various and overlapping reasons, such as: rivers brimming with garbage, waste-choked waterways, high levels of river sedimentation, and overflowing seawater. To tackle this, the government has issued various policies like the normalization of its 13 rivers and the construction of the Giant Sea Wall in an effort to prevent future flooding. The current Governor of Jakarta – Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (commonly referred to as Ahok) – organized groups to clean-up the entire water infrastructure and therefore reduce river flooding. Yet his tenure is not assured given the upcoming gubernatorial elections on February 15, 2017.

Jakarta from one of the many riverways

Directors’ site visit – First impressions

Co-Director Fleur Henderson remarked that wider Jakarta shares many of the challenges other megacities in Africa and Asia face, namely the overabundance of traffic, congestion, pollution, inequality, and slums. What sets Jakarta apart, however, is that it is a Delta City and is continually struggling against the water. While visiting slums and interviewing locals in North Jakarta, water emerged as a clear theme. For example, the Directors Fleur Henderson noted that locals spent a significant portion of their earnings – up to 30% of their salaries – to access semi-safe water.

Why? Throngs of people are not connected to official water suppliers, which leads to a rash of other economic, political and social consequences. For instance, a major contributor to flooding is pollution and the mishandling of waste management. This, in turn, clogs waterways and contributes to flooding. Additionally, the status quo lends itself to the growth of black market suppliers and the unauthorized drilling of groundwater wells. Not only does the later cause the land to collapse around such wells, it also means there’s no accurate way to measure water usage in Jakarta. Many people, predominately women, much fetch and carry water to their dwelling each day all against a backdrop where the price of accessing clean, safe water is continuously rising.

Human Cities Coalition was proud to join the Dutch trade mission on its November visit to Indonesia. With Prime Minister Rutte, hundreds of Dutch companies, VNO-NCW chairman Hans de Boer, and three ministers in tow, the group sought to uncover joint economic and social solutions to the myriad of issues, especially urban water challenges, Jakarta faces. When speaking to the NRC newspaper about Human Cities Coalition participation in the trade mission, Fleur Henderson commented: “It is useful to be able to speak many important players, from local officials to developers, at once.” Acting in a coordinated way with a mix of government officials, businesses, and civil society organizations proved to a useful mix of multi-level, cross-sector stakeholders. “If we had to organize this on our own, it would have taken months to arrange for all these meetings.” Overall, this served as a crucial step in gauging the situation on the ground while beginning to forge relationships with key local players.

Dutch Prime Minister Rutte addresses the trade mission in Jakarta
The Dutch trade mission discussing water infrastructure

In addition to visiting the slums areas of the city with the Dutch Trade Mission, Directors Fleur and Ronald also held meetings with World Bank officials, AkzoNobel in Jakarta, and with the Ministry of National Development and Planning (Bappenas).They also met with urban designers and researchers like the students at Pulse Lab Jakarta about uses for their innovative research and data collection projects. Pulse Lab Jakarta was established five years ago as a partnership between the UN and Development and Bappenas. As the first innovation lab of its kind in Asia, Pulse Lab Jakarta brings together experts from United Nations agencies, the Indonesian government, NGOs and the private sector to research and, most importantly, facilitate the adoption of new approaches for applying digital data sources and real-time analysis techniques to social development.

Jakarta’s main urban challenges – rapid scan findings

  1. Rapid urban growth: The Megacity of Jakarta increased from 11.91 million inhabitants in 1980, 17.14 million in 1990, and 20.63 million in 2000 to 28.01 million in 2010. In 2010, wider Jakarta accounted for 11.79 percent of Indonesia’s total population, but with this population residing in less than 0.3 percent of the country’s total area.
  1. Flooding: Recurring floods, particularly during the rainy season, indicate problems in Jakarta’s water management. During the wet season floods are commonplace, while in the dry season water scarcity becomes a major issue. Effective water management makes sure that excess water during the rainy season does not lead to disasters, while in the dry season, water especially potable water, remains adequately available.
Jakarta and its water challenges
An overview of Jakarta’s water challenges

Jakarta last suffered from massive flooding in 2007, which inundated over 23,000 hectares of Jakarta’s land area. Some 422,300 people were displaced and 1,500 houses destroyed. Total losses caused by the devastating floods reached USD 695 million (World Bank, 2010). Moreover, in the post-flood period, the people of Jakarta were afflicted by many health problems such as diarrhoea, flue and skin diseases. The flood also had a serious impact on the property market.

  1. Traffic & Congestion: Jakarta is regularly rated as having some of the world’s worst traffic and congestion. The city is estimated to lose US$3 billion a year because of traffic congestion, which is linked to the high growth rate of private vehicle ownership, inadequate road development, and sprawl. Alternative modes of public transport such as the busway is currently being developed to ease traffic. Yet people who live in the outskirts of Jakarta can save as much as 30% of their transportation costs using motorcycles to work rather than public transport.
Traffic congestion is an everyday affair in Jakarta
  1. Poverty and Inequality: Based on statistical data released in 2014, at least 412.79 thousand people in Jakarta live in poverty, with the poverty line in Indonesia sitting at USD 25 per month per person (Asian Development Bank 2015). North Jakarta has the largest number of poor people, followed by East Jakarta. Edi Suadi from Urban Poor Consortium (UPC) highlights 5 key dynamics of Jakarta’s poverty situation: (1) land tenure and the right to adequate housing (2) right to employment, (3) access to healthcare (4) access to education and (5) disaster resilience.
Visiting a school in one of Jakarta’s slums

Not only do the poor have no permanent place to stay, which ultimately forces them to settle along riverbanks, but they are also denied access to vital healthcare, education, and other public services. Educational and health services are accessible only to residents with DKI Jakarta identity cards, but for settlers with little to no documentation it is extremely difficult to gain access to existing government social programmes. Government and development projects to address these issues include the construction of low-cost apartments for poor households, issue education cards for free education until high school, distribute health cards, and open more job centres.

Preliminary Jakarta Findings

First and foremost, it clear to us that further scoping and community assessments are needed before we proceed in Jakarta. Accessing funding for inclusive infrastructure projects is not necessarily the issue, instead the challenge remains the complexity of public institutions and their necessary mobilization to push to large-scale projects forward in an inclusive manner. The scoping exercise and site visit also laid bare that large water projects in Jakarta currently lack a human component in that they do not bring the working poor in as part of a lasting, inclusive and sustainable solution. There is both an opportunity and a real need to include the voices of local residents when investing and shaping infrastructure projects in Jakarta.

Many people living in slum-like conditions exhibited little faith in their current government and continued scepticism about the Dutch involvement. This lack of trust must be bridged given that residents fear eviction and displacement without proper and sufficient dialogue given that past river normalisation projects were accompanied by forced evictions. This is an unfortunate legacy that NCICD and future large-scale projects inherit and must strive to overcome. Together Human Cities Coalition will continue its research into how to address the challenges residents in Jakarta face in an inclusive manner – ensuring opportunities for the poor and the private sector alike.


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