Ahok apologises to victims of Jakarta floods

Heavy rainfall caused widespread flooding in Jakarta on Tuesday. Under the governorship of Basuki and his predecessor Joko Widodo, the city has worked to clean up rivers and relocate squatters living on the banks.
Heavy rainfall caused widespread flooding in Jakarta on Tuesday. Under the governorship of Basuki and his predecessor Joko Widodo, the city has worked to clean up rivers and relocate squatters living on the banks.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Embattled governor's re-election hopes likely to hinge on how he handles the crisis

Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama has apologised to victims affected by flooding in the capital this week and promised to continue a project aimed at preventing it from happening again.

Basuki, who is running for election while standing trial for insulting Islam, also said he has ordered relief supplies to be distributed to residents displaced by the flood.

"I apologise to Jakarta residents, especially the elderly and children. We understand it is hard to go through this," said Basuki, speaking to reporters after Tuesday's court hearing, which ended after 10.30pm local time (11.30pm Singapore time). "But I guarantee that the floodwater will recede fast."

Heavy rainfall across Jakarta led to widespread flooding in the city, inundating thousands of homes and roads on Tuesday, which forced many to be evacuated and schools to be shut.

Basuki's hopes for re-election will hinge on how his administration resolves the crisis, after he campaigned hard on plans to resolve the perennial problem for residents of flood-prone areas in the capital.

Former education minister Anies Baswedan - Basuki's rival in the election, which will head into a second round of polls in April - said the floods were proof that Basuki's plan was ineffective.

But Basuki's running mate, Deputy Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat, said he was confident that the capital will be free from flooding in five years, if the administration can clean up the rivers in Jakarta.

"If we are consistent in normalising the rivers, Jakarta would be free of floods," he said, after inspecting a floodgate in Petamburan on Tuesday. "Although the normalisation process has yet to be completed, the number of flood-prone areas in the capital has been reduced significantly."

Under the governorship of Basuki and his predecessor Joko Widodo, who is now President, the Jakarta administration has cleaned up the city's biggest river, the Ciliwung.

It dredged a main dam and has relocated squatters from the riverbanks in recent years. This enabled flood levels in most areas across the city to subside by late evening on Tuesday.

Still, political opponents of Basuki are expected to politicise the crisis and criticise his flood prevention strategy.

Basuki, better known by his Chinese nickname Ahok, has said that when he took office as Mr Joko's deputy in 2012, the city had 2,200 flood-prone areas, a number which fell to 400 last year. He also said the flooding in East Jakarta was due to a delay in the river cleanup project.

And unlike the floods of 2013 and 2014, which claimed 12 and two lives respectively, there were no fatalities this week as rescuers were quick in responding to calls for help across the city.

Indonesia's National Disaster Management Authority (BNPB) said there were about 480 emergency reports yesterday - mainly in the east and north of the capital.

But it is bracing itself for heavy rain and more floods in the capital in the coming weeks, especially in North Jakarta.

Agency chief Willem Rampangilei said that this week's floods were caused by a combination of heavy rain and high tides, sedimentation and man-made factors such as garbage from the squatters living along the river.

He added that the BNPB will be prepared to respond to flooding in the days ahead.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2017, with the headline 'Ahok apologises to victims of Jakarta floods'. Print Edition | Subscribe