Go­ing green in slums of Jakarta

In ef­fort to avoid dis­place­ment, res­i­dents of Jakarta neigh­bour­hood make ma­jor changes

The Star Malaysia - - World -

Res­i­dents of Jakarta squat­ter colonies are clean­ing their rivers in an ef­fort to avoid be­ing evicted.

Jakarta: Brightly coloured wooden and brick houses line a clean river­side path amid trees and veg­etable gar­dens, a tran­quil scene in the nor­mally chaotic In­done­sian cap­i­tal Jakarta.

Res­i­dents have trans­formed the kam­pung, as tra­di­tional neigh­bour­hoods are known in In­done­sia, into a model of clean and green liv­ing in an ef­fort to fight off the threat of evic­tion. Kam­pung Tongkol was once much like many other dow­nat-heel river­side com­mu­ni­ties found 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 mak­ing ma­jor changes.

“We want to prove that poor peo­ple can bring about change, change in their en­vi­ron­ment,” said Gu­gun Muham­mad, a res­i­dent and one of the peo­ple be­hind the ini­tia­tive to trans­form the kam­pung.

The project, which be­gan in 2015, in­volved launch­ing a ma­jor cleanup by send­ing rafts onto the stretch of river run­ning through Tongkol to re­move moun­tains of trash, 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 lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.

By do­ing so, they hope to prove they have al­ready 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 greens, yel­lows and blues, cre­at­ing a riot of colour in a city no­to­ri­ous for be­ing a drab con­crete jun­gle dom­i­nated by dreary tower blocks.

Veg­etable and herbs are cul­ti­vated abun­dantly in spe­cially con­structed grow­ing 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 also been fit­ted to some houses to re­duce the amount of raw sewage be­ing pumped di­rectly into the river.

While some res­i­dents are still in the bad habit of lit­ter­ing, and not all mind­sets have been al­tered, it is a stark con­trast to how the kam­pung looked a few years ago.

The piles of rub­bish that once lined the river­banks are gone and the floods that used to in­un­date the neigh­bour­hood ev­ery wet sea­son are a thing of the past.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a suc­cess just yet – but it’s far bet­ter than be­fore,” said Muham­mad, 30, who also works for an civil so­ci­ety group called the Ur­ban Poor Con­sor­tium.

The com­mu­nity fi­nanced the over­haul them­selves but also re­ceived help from lo­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal groups.

The res­i­dents de­cided to take mat­ters into their own hands as they feared be­ing forced from their homes in the evic­tion drive spear­headed by Jakarta gov­er­nor Ba­suki Tja­haja Pur­nama.

The Jakarta Le­gal Aid In­sti­tute, which helps peo­ple fac­ing evic­tion, es­ti­mates over 8,000 fam­i­lies were forced from their homes in 2015 alone, and sent to apart­ment blocks of­ten far from the com­mu­ni­ties where they had lived for gen­er­a­tions. While forced evic­tions have al­ways taken place in Jakarta, the num­ber has in­creased dra­mat­i­cally over the past two years.

Pur­nama has de­fended the cam­paign, say­ing it will pre­vent the an­nual floods that in­un­date poor neigh­bour­hoods in the rainy sea­son by al­low­ing rivers to be widened.

As the gov­ern­ment drive gath­ered mo­men­tum and au­thor­i­ties threat­ened Kam­pung Tongkol with evic­tion in 2015, trans­form­ing the neigh­bour­hood took on an ur­gency for a com­mu­nity that has ex­isted for half a cen­tury.

“To build a new life is scary – be­ing evicted is not an op­tion,” Puji Ra­hayu, a 43-year-old Tongkol res­i­dent said.

The land that Tongkol stands on be­longs to the gov­ern­ment and the res­i­dents do not claim to own it.

It is not clear whether the kam­pung’s ef­forts will be enough to save it, with au­thor­i­ties still in­sist­ing the evic­tions are part of a longterm plan to over­haul river­side com­mu­ni­ties.

“The pri­or­ity in that area is to re­or­gan­ise the river­banks by re­lo­cat­ing the peo­ple,” said Jakarta gov­ern­ment spokesman Chris­tian An­thony.

Chang­ing for the bet­ter: Res­i­dents chat­ting in front of their home in Kam­pung Tongkol in Jakarta. (Right) A pho­to­graph of the pre­vi­ous con­di­tion of Kam­pung Tongkol is jux­ta­posed against its cur­rent con­di­tion in Jakarta.

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