Jakarta floods threaten Ahok's prospects for re-election

Kids playing in the flood in Kalibata, South Jakarta.ST VIDEO: WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA
Above: Residents in a flood-hit neighbourhood of Jakarta being helped into a rubber boat yesterday. Left: Indonesian air force soldiers assisting stranded residents as torrential rain triggered widespread flooding.
Residents in a flood-hit neighbourhood of Jakarta being helped into a rubber boat yesterday.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Above: Residents in a flood-hit neighbourhood of Jakarta being helped into a rubber boat yesterday. Left: Indonesian air force soldiers assisting stranded residents as torrential rain triggered widespread flooding.
Indonesian air force soldiers assisting stranded residents as torrential rain triggered widespread flooding.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
A heavy downpour in Jakarta that started on Monday has unleashed one of the city's worst floods in recent years, causing many to evacuate and schools to shut. There have been no fatalities, although there were about 480 emergency reports related to t
PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Heavy rainfall that led to widespread flooding in Jakarta yesterday has threatened to dampen Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama's hopes for re-election.

The incumbent had campaigned hard on plans to resolve the perennial problem for residents living in flood-prone areas in the capital.

But an overnight downpour inundated thousands of homes and roads yesterday, forcing many to be evacuated and schools to be shut.

Flood waters from the heavy rainfall, which started on Monday, had risen as high as 1.5m in residential areas such as Cipinang Melayu, with the low-lying estate in East Jakarta the worst hit yesterday.

However, floods in most other areas across the city had subsided by late evening, mainly due to work by the Jakarta administration in cleaning up the nearby Ciliwung River, and relocating squatters from the river banks in recent years.

Still, political opponents of Basuki, better known by his Chinese nickname Ahok, wasted no time in politicising the crisis and criticising his flood-prevention strategy.

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

"If the plan is not going well, the (river) normalisation plan won't be effective," he said in a Tempo news report yesterday, which was accompanied by a photo of Mr Anies in waist-high water during his visit to Cipinang Melayu on Monday.

Basuki, however, said that when he took office as deputy to then Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo in 2012, there were 2,200 flood-prone areas in the city. But this fell to 400 last year. He also said the flooding in East Jakarta was due to a delay in the river normalisation project.

Also, unlike the floods of 2013 and 2014, which claimed 12 and two lives respectively, there were no fatalities from yesterday's incident as rescuers were quick in responding to calls for help across the city.

"Our plan for Jakarta is to return the rivers to their original state and raise the height of the dikes... We are in the process of doing that," said Basuki.

There were about 480 emergency reports relating to the floods yesterday, and these were mainly calls made from the east and north of the capital, said national disaster management agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

But some areas such as Kampung Pulo in the eastern part of the city, which usually suffers the worst of the floods, fared better this time.

Jakarta, a coastal city, is crisscrossed by as many as 13 rivers, and these often burst their banks during the monsoon season, causing massive flooding.

In the Jakarta Great Flood of February 2007, more than two-thirds of the capital was under water after it rained non-stop for three days. In that year, some 320,000 people were displaced, and 80 people died. Conditions have improved in recent years. In 2013, the number of displaced residents due to floods was 33,500, and about 2,000 in 2014.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2017, with the headline 'Jakarta floods threaten Ahok's prospects for re-election'. Print Edition | Subscribe