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Flooding in Jakarta: A Call to Increase Climate Change Awareness

rising water levels submerging the family's belongings
Flooding in the author’s home in during a 2020 flash flood.

Every New Year’s Eve, while most people set their resolutions, my family instead prays that no January flood happens and submerges our home in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Our two-story house is just a few steps from the dirty-brown Angke river, which has been dropping sediments and becoming more shallow over time, making it infamous as a source of flooding.

Within the last three years, the flood intensity has gotten worse. In early January 2020, heavy overnight rain caused flash floods with the highest inundations so far: 5 feet and 7 inches. That’s five inches over the average height of an Indonesian citizen. The severe flood almost submerged our first floor.

Flooding is now no longer an annual disaster that we could expect only around January. During 2022, the floods came almost every month. Heavy rains poured down even during the dry season.

Sometimes, while watching the flooding from my balcony, I wonder: Are my family, my friends, or Indonesians in general, aware that the flooding is getting worse because of climate change?

“The blame goes to the Jakarta Provincial Government​,” my father often says. “They have poor urban planning and have allowed inappropriate infrastructure developments, reducing vegetated areas that absorb rainwater.” My mom always agrees, “Yes, many green spaces surrounded our housing area when we first moved here in 1987.”

I used to agree with my parents — until I learned about climate change.

“No, it’s climate change,” is how I now respond. “It brings heavier rains and exacerbates the floods,” I explain, but my parents are unwavering. Perhaps it’s because the rapid infrastructure development is more obvious to them than climate change.

flood waters engulfing a one-story home
A neighbor’s home flooding, photographed from the author’s second floor.

It seems my friends also don’t know who or what to blame and just accept the situation. In early October 2022, it rained heavily almost every day and caused some roads and areas in Jakarta to flood. I remember a friend’s picture of her knees almost covered by the flood and she was shocked. Another friend, walking through the flooded street in a video, asked, “Why does it keep flooding?” Another friend shared a view from her car dashboard showing cars lined up in traffic, wondering when she would get home.

So, I wonder again: Are they aware it’s due to climate change?

Climate change contributes to the more frequent flooding. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that warmer climates, owing to increased water vapor, will experience more intense precipitation events. The warmer climate therefore increases risks of floods.

Indonesia’s national disaster agency observed that in the last 10 years, 98% of natural disasters in Indonesia were hydrometeorological disasters that were likely exacerbated by climate change. The agency also reported flooding was the most frequent disaster in the country in 2022. There were 188 deaths and a million homes destroyed and submerged.

These facts should easily wake up Jakarta’​s citizens​ to act on climate change. We shouldn’t wait until the impact gets worse, like the devastating floods in Pakistan in September 2022, when 1,500 people died and more than 2.1 million homes were destroyed.

However, it’s not as easy as I thought.

The lack of education in climate change makes it hard for people to relate. The challenge in voicing the climate crisis in Indonesia is that the society lacks knowledge about the climate crisis, what causes it, what the impacts are, and how it is affecting human life, said Dian Paramita, a representative for 350.org, an international environmental organization.

The current Indonesian minister of education, Nadiem Makarim also admitted that the country’s education system is still not successful in building students’ and parents’ awareness of the importance of climate change.

The media in Indonesia also don’t provide adequate exposure to climate change issues.

As a result, it’s not surprising that, despite feeling climate change’s impacts, Indonesia ranks first for climate-change deniers, as YouGov’s survey in 2020 showed.

Although the government has several agendas on climate change, such as setting a target to cut its emissions, the execution is questionable. For example, it continues raising coal production, which contributes to climate change. From 687 million tonnes in 2022, Indonesia plans to produce 695 million tonnes of coal this year.

If more Indonesians understood climate change, we would have the people power to urge the government to execute the climate agendas properly. Hence, it is crucial to raise awareness about climate change in the country. Collectively, we could review the national climate change learning strategy. Individually we could contribute by normalizing climate change conversations.

Conversations with my parents made me realize the need to talk about climate change consistently. They may not have fully agreed that climate change has increased the flood frequency, but recently I felt a slight change, particularly in my father.

He has started to listen to me more closely when I explain climate change. There was even a day he asked me if it is true that climate change is human-made. (Yes, it is.) So, I think I have successfully made him curious about the topic. And curiosity is the first step toward learning and empowering.

Sharah Yunihar Saputra is a graduate student in Sustainability Management at Columbia University.

Views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Columbia Climate School, Earth Institute or Columbia University.

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