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  Straits Times Forum 21 Feb 07
Recent floods in Jakarta are strong evidence that urbanisation must be reduced
by Deden Rukmana

JAKARTA is hit by deadly floods each year and this year is the worst flood in memory. At one point, the flood inundated about 70 per cent of the city. It killed at least 57 people and sent about 450,000 fleeing their homes.

The city's hospitals struggled with an influx of patients suffering from diarrhoea, dengue and severe respiratory problems. The flood paralysed the centre of Indonesia's economy for several days and businesses claimed to lose about US$1 billion (S$1.54 billion).

The flood is not a new problem for Jakarta. Has the government learnt from previous floods? Does the Jakarta administration have a master plan of drainage and flood mitigation?

In the aftermath of deadly floods in 2002, the government drafted a master plan to expand the Dutch-built city's canal system.

Two centuries ago, the Dutch colonial government, with its long experience of controlling water and drainage systems, built the canal system to protect the city's population which was then 500,000. Jakarta, which lies in the lowland with 43 lakes and 13 rivers, relies on the canal system to prevent flooding.

Jakarta's Governor, Mr Sutiyoso, blamed limited financial support from the central government to expand the city's canal system as the culprit in the disaster. Mr Sutiyoso also blamed deforestation and overbuilding in neighbouring areas which were supposed to be water catchment areas.

On the other hand, Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar put the blame on excessive construction of residential and commercial buildings in the city that violate environmental impact analyses.

Both arguments are incomplete. Beyond their arguments, the bottom line we can learn from the annual Jakarta floods that are growing worse is that Jakarta has not been able to sustain its growth.

In urban planning, we know growth management and smart growth. Jakarta needs more than the two. It needs growth redistribution.

Not only is Jakarta the capital of Indonesia, it is also the economic, commercial, cultural and transportation hub of the nation. Jakarta is the prime city of Indonesia and it dominates the urban system.

The population in Jakarta is far more than in any other city in Indonesia. The population of metropolitan Jakarta was 14 million in 2005. The second and third largest cities are Bandung and Surabaya with 2005 populations of 4.2 million and 2.9 million respectively.

The area of Jakarta is only 0.3 per cent of Indonesia's total area but its population was 6.3 per cent of Indonesia's population in 2005. It grew from only 4.4 per cent in 1985.

The domination of Jakarta is predicted to become larger in coming years. The predicted Jakarta population by the United Nations World Population Prospects in 2015 is 17.8 million which will account for 7.2 per cent of Indonesia's population.

Jakarta's rapid urbani ation is inextricably linked with highly concentrated growth in Jakarta. The recent flood demonstrates that Jakarta has not been able to sustainably accommodate this urbanisation.

It also demonstrates how the growth in Jakarta confronts private consumption and public investment in infrastructure.

The Indonesian economy has growing at a robust pace of 6 per cent a year and Jakarta has been Indonesia's primary growth machine. New homes, commercial and office buildings have proliferated in Jakarta and its neighbouring areas, but hardly any new infrastructures, including the expansion of Jakarta's canal system, have been built in the past 10 years since the economic crisis hit Indonesia in 1997.

The recent flood is strong evidence that rapid urbanisation in Jakarta must be reduced. One way to reduce the rapid urbanisation in Jakarta is to eliminate the pull factor of urbanisation.

One major pull factor of urbanisation in Jakarta is its function as Indonesia's capital. It is not impossible to relocate Indonesia's capital out of Jakarta. Indonesia needs to learn from Brazil when it relocated the capital in the 1960s from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia, or Malaysia when it relocated the legislative and judicial branches in the 1990s from Kuala Lumpur to Putra Jaya.

Relocating Indonesia's capital out of Jakarta will not only make Jakarta more sustainable but also create regional equality in Indonesia.

The writer is an Indonesian national and an assistant professor of urban studies at Savannah State University, USA.

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