Jakarta: Between skyscrapers and slums

humedica-Team: "Living conditions are unconceivable."

by Anna Grabner-Strobach,  2020/01/15

January 2020. The people in Indonesia start the new year with heavy rainfall and floods. More than 60 people lose their lives and hundreds of thousands their homes. A humedica intervention team is at work in the disaster region only shortly afterwards. Accompanied by an aid flotilla, the team is on its way with our partner Alpha Omega Foundation to bring the urgently needed relief good packages to the people in the disaster region, when a child playing on the roadside attracts the attention of the helpers.

At first sight there is nothing unusual, but when they look more closely, they see that the child was playing suspiciously near to the highway. When they ask the locals, they learn that this is no isolated incident, but typical for an informal accommodation. Provisory materials are used to build huts in order to turn the cavities of the bridges into housing space for humans. In such a settlement the team has to walk stooped as the ceiling is nowhere higher than 1.20 m. Nobody chooses to live here. But these people have no other place to live. Whether a disaster happens or not, these people live here in misery every day. Our partner tells us that about 200,000 people live in such informal settlements without basic utilities, without proprietary rights, without electricity, without access to clean water or sanitary facilities and without sufficient living space.

Increasing living costs force the people to live in such illegal settlements. Photo: Daniel Reiter, humedica

„They living conditions are unconceivable. Children play with waste thrown out of the passing cars” reports the intervention team. „We can not imagine how the situation must have been when the water masses gathered here after the heavy rainfall.“

Worldwide, every seventh human lives in a slum. Images of such settlements are often provided by developing countries. But also aspiring economic centres like Jakarta are prone. The capital of Indonesia has seen a veritable construction boom since its independence in 1945. Industrialization, rural exodus and urbanization are side effects of the driving force of the Indonesian economy. At present, 13 million inhabitants live in the most densely populated city of Indonesia. Skyscrapers jostle each other. Nearly every spot is covered with concrete. That is where problems start. Land is scarce and prices for plots and living spaces are rocketing. Poorer people are forced out to live in the outskirts of the city. So-called illegal informal settlements beside railroad tracks, highways and bridges keep on growing.

In Jakarta, some children grow up in cavities under highways. Photo: Daniel Reiter: humedica

And then, there are the natural disasters. Each year in the monsoon season the city gets inundated by heavy rainfall. Due to the geographical site of the city but also caused by faulty urban planning and a lacking sewage system. Every time natural disasters hit without warning, but it´s always the people, who have nearly or virtually next to nothing, who suffer the most and for whom the access to clean water is essential to survive.

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