Sat, 12 Mar 2005

5,000 residents stay put in floods

Multa Fidrus, The Jakarta Post, Tangerang

Unbuttoning his short-sleeved shirt, Arman rushes to a nearby pond where four of his friends splash about with a ball. Without hesitation, the 12-year-old boy throws off his clothes and plunges into the dark brownish-green colored water.

This pond is far from safe. Full of garbage and sewage, it covers a 50 meter by 70 meter field where people used to play volleyball and football most afternoons.

The Kamal Malang village has been flooded by foot-deep water since November because of a damaged drainage system. A stench from the decaying refuse floating on the surface greets all who come to the area and residents say diseases and skin infections are now commonplace among the 5,000 people living in the village.

"Diarrhea, dengue fever and skin ailments are nothing new for me and the other residents here," Yeti, 34, a housewife, told The Jakarta Post.

The mother of four said lack of fresh water was a big problem faced by residents because the floods had contaminated the groundwater in local wells.

Yati said she and other housewives bought at least 7 liters of clean water a day from vendors, priced at about Rp 850 a liter.

"We use clean water only for cooking, drinking and washing household appliances. For bathing and for using the toilet we have to share public bathrooms with residents of Kamal Muara village," she said.

The two villages lie side by side in North Jakarta, separated only by an unused waterway that has long been dry and is now clogged with mud and garbage.

Although the villages are neighbors, they are very different. The sidewalks heading to Kamal Muara from Jl. Raya Dadap are made of concrete, while residents in Kamal Malang have constructed floating sidewalks made of wood.

Marzuki, chief of neighborhood unit (RT) I, said the water had been in the village since the Idul Fitri holidays last year.

"Flood waters have remained about a foot high since November, and they can reach more than a meter if it rains," he said.

He said the 6 hectare village had never received assistance from the local administration.

"Maybe, it is because this coastal village is not visible from the main street. We have repeatedly asked village officials to build drainage systems but to no avail," he said.

While many exasperated villagers had decided to leave their fate to God, the problem had not improved and they could not carry on their normal lives, he said.

Kurtubi Su'ud, chairman of the Tangerang regency council commission D in charge of development blamed the suffering of the residents on the carelessness of the Tangerang administration.

"Floodwaters in a village for five months is evidence of very bad drainage system planning by the regional public works agency," he said.

However, Hermansyah, the head of the regency's public works agency said while the administration had allocated Rp 60 billion to repair damaged drainage systems in six districts across the regency, it had not allocated a single cent to the Kamal Malang village.

"I will propose to the administration to allocate a budget to repair waterways in Kamal Malang from the administration's additional costs budget," he said.