Jakarta: Heavy rains and high tides have caused chaos in Indonesia’s capital for three days, highlighting its ailing infrastructure as roads to the airport became impassable and thousands had to abandon their homes or cars.
The flooding also led to flight delays elsewhere in Southeast Asia and served as a reminder to many travellers, including the investors and bankers that Indonesia most needs to attract, of the country’s widespread structural problems.
Indonesia requires billions of dollars of investment to build or modernise its airports, roads, railways, and power plants.
Its economic growth has lagged far behind that of China and India, in part because of ailing infrastructure, and the government wants to privatise a raft of state companies, from steel plants to palm oil plantations, to raise much-needed funds.
But following the chaos on Friday, when the capital was brought to a standstill and thousands of people were trapped in traffic jams for over 12 hours due to flooding, some of the very financiers that Indonesia needs to help fund new infrastructure have vowed to avoid the place.
“Memo to self: do not visit Jakarta in the rainy season again,” wrote Hong Kong-based economist Jim Walker in a note to clients after he was stuck in traffic for nine hours trying to get to Jakarta’s airport, a trip which usually takes no more than one hour.
“Today’s traffic problems are an apt metaphor for Indonesia: stuck in first gear with long periods of sitting around waiting for the jam to clear. The country is stuck with lousy leadership, weak institutions and below-potential growth,” wrote Walker, who now heads an independent research firm in Hong Kong and who for many years was CLSA’s well-respected chief Asia economist.
One Jakarta-based banker, who had had to hitch a lift on an army truck for a four-hour ride through flooded roads back from the airport, said they had told their head office not to send out any more investors or staff to Jakarta until the flooding had subsided.
Every rainy season, Indonesia suffers from heavy flooding and landslides. Three people have died and about 100,000 were displaced in Jakarta since Friday due to the heavy rains and flooding.
The chaos in Jakarta also caused air traffic problems in other parts of Southeast Asia.
When the airport was closed for several hours on Friday due to poor visibility, many flights were delayed and others could not land, leading to a backlog and long delays in other cities including Singapore.
By Sunday morning, there were still more than 15 vehicles including vans, buses and trucks trapped in about 70 centimetres of water on the toll road to Jakarta’s Sukarno-Hatta airport and three cranes were brought in to move the vehicles out of the water.
Many cars had been abandonned at the roadside, and rubber boats were used to evacuate those people still trapped inside or on the roofs of their vehicles.
“Passengers who are trapped in the floods are being evacuated with rubber boats, and then transferred to buses to take them to the airport,” Wawan, from toll road management company PT Jasa Marga, told Reuters by telephone.
Wawan, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, said that the water in the toll road near the airport was as deep as 70 cm. Rustam Pakaya, a health ministry official, said three people were killed in West Jakarta and nearly 100,000 people were displaced.
“Only one or two people were reported sick due to diarrhoea and skin itches after the floods,” Pakaya told Reuters by telephone, on Sunday.