The Unbearable Consequences of Water and Mobility Solutions in Jakarta

An increasingly major cause of flooding in Jakarta is land subsidence that has been greatly and continuously aggravated by groundwater extraction. The longstanding cause of the city’s mobility (traffic!) problem is its faulty land use. Eliminating both those root causes would implicate Jakarta’s political economic structure. It is not bearable in the foreseeable future.

Yes, there are many other fixes to overcome floods: dredge the canals and drains routinely, correct their levels, dig more recharging wells and large water bodies, etc. But groundwater extraction has been causing land subsidence of 15 centimeters per year in some places.

In most places it is between 3 and 5 centimeters per year. Jakarta’s soft soil helps this process, as cited by Sawarendro in a 2010 publication of the Indonesian Land Reclamation and Water Management Institute. Compare this with rising sea levels of “only” 6 millimeters per annum. Sawarendro adds that therefore the effectiveness of flood prevention structures such as dykes will always decrease over time.

Every few years, new investment will be needed. Building more infrastructure is not a sustainable solution. Land subsidence will also very likely cause breakages of pipes and drains, changing their leveling. Without stopping the groundwater extraction, all other actions will just be wasteful, becoming merely recurrent “projects” unfortunately preferred by corrupt and unimaginative officials and politicians. More nice parks will not be significant. By itself, water recharge in urban areas will not be fast enough to replenish depleted groundwater.

Mobility is an analogical issue. The main cause is the land-use trend: The thinning out of the city center to become commercial and workplaces only, while more and more people are pushed further and further away to the suburbs, where they can still afford smaller and smaller houses. Now they already spend as much as between 15 percent and 35 percent of their income on commuting.

In developed cities, the working class spends only between 5 percent and 8 percent. The poorest can only opt to struggle in the city’s center, as near as possible to work. Evicting them is the most inhumane thing a government can do to them.

Studies confirm that the bulk of trips are clearly to and from the suburbs. Their number increased by more than 1.5 times in the last decade. The population growth rate in Jakarta in 2000 to 2010 was “only” 1.4 percent per year, while in the surrounding areas it was between 3.13 percent (Tangerang regency) and 4.74 percent (South Tangerang city). The national average is 1.49 percent. South and Central Jakarta are actually experiencing a negative population growth rate as massive land-use change is pushing people out.

Yes, public transportation needs urgent investments. But without rearranging the land-use pattern and discipline in correcting and maintaining it, the supply of public transport will never be sufficient and quick enough to cater to the ever-increasing demand generated by the land-use change trends.

All previous mass rapid transit systems in the world were built when energy was cheap. Now energy is increasingly more expensive. Like any hardware and hard technology, as is the case with the water problem above, infrastructure will easily become obsolete. New software or information and communication technology should instead be used to manage trip demand and reorient land-use trends.

To stop groundwater extraction, the supply of piped water must be at least doubled. Then there are issues of closing down all the wells and ways to enforce the law. Development will have to slow down for the first decade or so, before it is allowed to step up again in relation to successful piped water investment and development.

This will take at least two decades for real impactful results. This timeframe refers to Tokyo, which successfully stopped groundwater extraction and land subsidence in the last century.

To fix the land-use pattern, many former violations must be corrected. A new master plan, which really must integrate public transportation systems and land use and density in concrete and programmable terms, will have to be made effective. It will change land values, benefitting some and disadvantaging others. A new, accountable and rational system of taxation will have to be applied. These are the consequences that the city’s political economic structure can barely bear for the time being. The existing structure might not allow those fundamental solutions in the near future.

In every national and local Jakarta election, I always hoped for new leaders courageous enough to do the above measures, as I believe they must and could be done. We need leaders that will do “the musts”, not only the things possible according to some limited imaginations in closed rooms. And we all must be ready and willing to support them.

Consultants and experts need to keep telling politicians to stop paying lip service or offering technological quick fixes that treat only the symptoms rather than the root causes.

Beautifully pleasing parks and flashy public transportation modes are fine, but it is the invisible systemic trends that need to be reversed. The success might be in the long term, so that it is not politically enticing. But solutions need to be started now exactly because of that.

– See more at: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2015/08/22/unbearable-consequences-water-mobility-solutions-jakarta.html#sthash.4JsinbyU.dpuf

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