Rubbish-laden Jakarta kampung cleans up its act to fight eviction

Green and clean Tongkol kampung today, compared with its former dirty, dilapidated surroundings.
Green and clean Tongkol kampung today, compared with its former dirty, dilapidated surroundings.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

JAKARTA • Brightly coloured wooden and brick houses line a clean riverside path amid lush greenery, a tranquil scene in the normally chaotic Indonesian capital Jakarta.

Residents have transformed their kampung into a model of clean and green living in an effort to fight off the threat of eviction.

Tongkol kampung was once like other down-at-heel riverside communities across the overcrowded, traffic-choked metropolis of 10 million, blighted by dilapidated housing and strewn with rubbish.

But a series of controversial evictions of waterside neighbourhoods in the past two years, aimed at getting houses away from the capital's rivers to combat annual flooding, spurred the residents into action.

"We want to prove that poor people can bring about change," said Mr Gugun Muhammad, a resident and one of the people behind the initiative to transform the kampung.

The project, which began in 2015, involved a major clean-up which sent rafts out to remove mountains of trash from the river, putting up bins around the kampung and signs to remind residents not to litter.

The most drastic part of the facelift saw residents taking sledgehammers to their own houses to remove sections that previously went right up to the water's edge, with poor families sometimes demolishing entire rooms.

They wanted to ensure the buildings were at least 5m from the river to lessen the risk of flooding and allow road access, something required by the local authorities.

By doing so, they hope to prove they have taken measures to stop the community being inundated every rainy season and prevent the local government forcing them out.

They built new walls for their houses and painted them in hues of green, yellow and blue, creating a riot of colour in a city notorious for being a drab concrete jungle.

Vegetable and herbs are cultivated in special boxes; papaya, mango and banana hang from trees; and composting organic waste is now second nature to the 260 families that make up the small community.

Septic tanks have been fitted to some houses to reduce the amount of raw sewage being pumped directly into the river.

While some still litter, and not all mindsets have been altered, it is a stark contrast to how the kampung looked a few years ago.

However, Tongkol sits on land belonging to the government and it is not clear whether the kampung's efforts will be enough to save it.

Still, Mr Gugun said the kampung is trying to live day to day and not focus on the ever-present threat of losing its homes.

And another resident said: "To build a new life is scary - being evicted is not an option."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2017, with the headline 'Rubbish-laden Jakarta kampung cleans up its act to fight eviction'. Print Edition | Subscribe