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Jakarta’s deadly floods wash up reminders of Indonesia’s shoddy infrastructure and disorganized politics

People wade through a flooded street in Jakarta
AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim
Watch out for snakes and lizards.
By Naomi Rovnick
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The Indonesian capital of Jakarta has been savaged by heavy floods that, according to reports, have left eleven people dead and sent thousands fleeing the city. So local media are, quite naturally, questioning where the vast sums of money committed to upgrading the capital’s ageing and creaky infrastructure really went to.

“Administrations past and present have between them spent hundreds of billions of rupiah to prepare for floods,” a commentary in the English language Jakarta Globe reminded readers. ”Thursday’s flood brings into question whether the infrastructure projects were properly maintained.”

In 2008, Jakarta announced it would spend a total of 19.5 trillion rupiah ($2 billion) upgrading the city’s flood defences. Yet one expert told the BBC today that one reason the city is submerged in water is because its drainage system has not been substantially upgraded since Indonesia’s former Dutch rulers handed the nation its independence in 1948.

A long delay in Jakarta city leaders agreeing the capital’s 2013 spending plans may also have hampered flood prevention works. Last October, Jakarta unveiled a draft budget proposing to spend 557 billion rupiah on flood mitigation. City leaders have several times delayed voting on the  budget, including during a January 11 meeting.

And by yesterday the capital, which lies partly below sea level with 13 rivers flowing into it, was drenched in brown water. Homes are damaged, offices and shops are shuttered. Access to the airport is tricky, though flights are running and the airport operator is trying to get passengers there on coaches. Locals have reported seeing monitor lizards and giant pythons slithering through the streets.

In Indonesia, there is sometimes no correlation between infrastructure spending and infrastructure quality. Because corruption infects every stage of project building, from the initial government tender process to extortion at subcontractor level, money is lost and costs spike. This report (pdf, p.7), part authored by USAID, found that while investment in Indonesian roads greatly increased from 2001-2009,” at the same time, “roads in poor and damaged conditions tend[ed] to increase.”

Here is a chart from the report showing the increase in road spending in Indonesia in recent years:

Indonesian road spending surges…

And here is a graphic showing that, while budgets have risen, the proportion of roads in poor and damaged conditions has also grown.

…While road quality falls

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