Situ Gintung calamity long foretold

by Damar Harsanto, The Jakarta Post , Jakarta —- Sat, 03/28/2009 1:30 PM —- Headlines

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Native Jakarta historian and former politician Ridwan Saidi wrote the following forecast, more than 15 years before this Friday’s flash flood washed away the homes of squatters living below the Situ Gintung Lake and claimed at least 58 lives.
“Men have caused ecological change. Yet the negative impact has not been felt. However, possible flash floods loom on the horizon as we can see from now,” he wrote in the essay “Situ Gintung”, in his 1994 book Orang Betawi dan Modernisasi Jakarta (The Betawi People and the Modernization of Jakarta).
“In 1930, when the *Dutch* colonial government built a road connecting Kebayoran Lama with Ciputat via Pasar Jumat, Situ Gintung, measuring 31 hectares at that time, became a tourist attraction for locals up to Parung,” he wrote.
He recalled accounts depicting the small lake packed with honeymooners taking boats out to tour the lake, while other residents sat on the grass by the lakeside, devouring their meals.
“The water is clear as crystal, with the reflection on the lake water of a beautiful Betawi girl in Palmerah batik attire holding a Tasikmalaya umbrella.”
In the piece, dated July 22, 1993, he wrote that the lake water had turned to dark green and there were no more boats to be seen on the lake, as houses began mushrooming around the lake.
He also wrote that the nearby Situ Gelam Lake had suffered a worse fate, as it had been filled in and leveled out to make way for an upmarket housing estate in Pasar Kemis.
“More lakes have been converted, some for parking spaces, leaving a shrinking area for water catchment. Greater Jakarta demands more space for housing, and this has wound up in the massive conversion of farmland, lakes and yards into housing complexes,” he wrote.
As of Friday’s disaster, the lake had shrunk to 21 hectares. It is 10 meters deep and capable of retaining 2.1 million cubic meters of water. And it is surrounded by housing complexes.
Kusparmadi, a planology lecturer at the Indonesian Institute of Technology (ITI), who recently made an inventory of the lakes, said four of the lakes had disappeared due the administration’s lack of control over illegal occupation by local residents and housing developers.
He called on the government to take measures to tackle the problem, saying the lakes played an important role in the local ecology as water catchment areas.
Data from the Public Works Ministry in 2003 shows more than 60 percent of the 200 lakes in the Greater Jakarta experienced heavy sedimentation that made them shallower, thus undermining their ability to contain rainwater.

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