Mon, 01 Dec 2003

Evicted fishermen's woes to recur with river expansion plan

Evi Mariani, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Hundreds of evicted fishermen and their families living along the banks of the Muara Angke river in North Jakarta will again be forced to move, as the Jakarta administration started widening the river over the weekend to ease flooding.

"The secretary of the (Pluit) subdistrict office came on Saturday and said we had to leave the riverbank because the city would widen the river," said Kajidin, chairman of the Traditional Fishermen's Union (SNT), on Sunday.

Three excavators were seen parked on a section of the riverbank.

"Two of them have been working since yesterday, sometimes passing our boats and shanties. They haven't touched our area though," he said.

Around 240 fishermen families have been homeless since Oct. 22, when North Jakarta public order officers demolished their stilt houses.

Kajidin said he argued with the official that they could deepen the river, instead of widening it, to ease flooding.

"The official told me that it was impossible (to deepen the river) because the city bylaw said so," he said. "I got angry with him, as the bylaw is made by the officials themselves. Why can't they change it?"

Kajidin said the SNT had discussed the matter and its members agreed to resist the second eviction, as they had nowhere else to live.

Since the first eviction, the fishermen families have been living on their boats or in makeshift tents along the riverbank. Several families have built shanties on the cleared land.

Hundreds of others have moved to a large fishpond to the north of the river and have built stilt huts.

"The subdistrict official suggested that we move to the pond during the project. He didn't realize that there's no more space around the pond -- it's fully occupied," said Kajidin.

"The official even refused to give us an official letter for the Jakarta Fishery Agency to notify them that we will stay there temporarily."

To build a hut, a family needs between Rp 2 million (US$235) and Rp 3 million.

The union members have insisted on staying at Muara Angke until either the government or the city administration allotted a specific location near the water for them.

The evictions are nothing new for the fishermen, as their families have been forced to move from place to place in the name of development.

Most fishermen families on the Muara Angke have lived there since 1977, when they were evicted from the Muara Karang river, an western estuary of the Muara Angke.

Muara Karang is now the site of a power plant run by state electricity company PT PLN.

Before Muara Karang, the fishermen's parents had been evicted from an estuary of the Ciliwung river in Ancol, North Jakarta. The estuary was later developed into a recreational marina, home to luxurious yachts owned by affluent individuals.

Earlier, the Ministry of Settlement and Regional Infrastructure promised to provide the fishermen with low-cost housing on Song Beach, Indramayu, West Java. The houses are expected to be ready next March.

The North Jakarta municipality had also promised to provide low-cost rental apartments on a 4.5-hectare plot of land in Muara Angke, but it has yet to determine a specific timeframe.

The fishermen have agreed to move to Indramayu once the houses are ready, but for the time being, they have no choice but to stay on their boats in the river.

"We will visit the (Pluit) subdistrict office tomorrow (Monday) to ask that they allow us to stay here until there's word about our housing," said Kajidin.