“Slow disaster”: Indonesians in sinking village forced to adapt

School children walk on a road flooded with sea water in the village of Timbulsloko in Indonesia (BAY ISMOYO)

School children walk on a road flooded with sea water in the village of Timbulsloko in Indonesia (BAY ISMOYO)

Indonesian teacher Sulkan browses through images of his small mosque surrounded by the sea, recalling a marching band and smiling children who have graduated from his kindergarten, standing on a street now submerged in murky green water.

This is just one of many landmarks in the Javanese coastal village of Timbulsloko engulfed by rising tides, forcing residents to adapt to a new life on the water.

More than 200 people stayed in one of Indonesia’s fastest sinking areas, which has transformed from a landscape of lush rice paddies to a network of boardwalks and canoes in an alarming sign of how climate change could disrupt coastal communities everywhere.

“They are just memories now…there are no more activities like that,” said Sulkan, 49, who like many Indonesians has only one name.

“Why? Because the place is already flooded by the tide.”

The lives of Timbulsloko residents have been drastically altered by rising sea levels, coastal erosion and excessive groundwater abstraction causing the land to sink.

The coast was also made vulnerable to flooding after locals cleared mangroves for fishing ponds in the 1990s.

The water has since reached five kilometers (three miles) inland around Timbulsloko and the surrounding Demak region, according to Denny Nugroho Sugianto, a professor at Diponegoro University.

He called it a “slow disaster” unfolding before the world’s eyes, with data showing some areas around Timbulsloko sinking up to 20 centimeters a year, double the rate recorded in 2010.

“This is the highest rate of land subsidence” ever recorded in the area, he said.

– ‘Without Future’ –

Much of the megacity capital Jakarta is predicted to be submerged by 2050 for the same reasons, researchers say, but villagers along Java’s coast are on the front lines of the emergency.

Sulkan was forced to move his kindergarten from an old wooden building near his home to another structure on higher ground to prevent it from being lost.

Residents have raised the floors of their homes by adding earth and then installing wooden decks to keep dry as the floods become more severe.

This has left them with an increasingly tight space, forcing anyone entering to duck to avoid hitting their heads.

Sularso, 54, said he had raised the floor three times since 2018, totaling 1.5 meters, spending about 22 million rupees ($1,460).

“There is no future for me,” the fisherman told AFP.

“This village… will disappear in less than five years. We can’t build, we can’t do anything.”

He says his floor can still be submerged in water at high tide, leaving him worried that high waves could bring down his house.

Housewife Khoiriyah, 42, said she had difficulty shopping or getting her three children to school because of the flooded streets.

“Life is harder now. Whenever water enters my house, I always wish I could get out,” she said.

Yet the problem is set to get even worse as climate change continues.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that a two degree Celsius increase over the pre-industrial era could raise sea levels by 43 centimeters within the next century.

– Raising the dead –

It is not only the living being protected from rising seas.

The village cemetery was raised to prevent it from sinking, with the villagers installing a wooden fence, nets and tires to keep the waters at bay.

Residents have also crowdfunded a footbridge to connect their homes and give them access to the graves of their loved ones.

The younger generation of Timbulsloko often spend their time away from home, escaping the floods that haunt their daily lives.

“Life is monotonous here. Young people often go out because they hate being at home,” said 24-year-old Choirul Tamimi.

Prior to the use of boats in the village, Tamimi said, he would have crossed the floodwater on his way to work with a change of clothes.

“When I come back from work, it’s annoying because I’m not only tired but also wet,” he said.

Sugianto has called on the government to expand access to piped water for residents to reduce groundwater use and look to fill in sand to replace what has eroded away.

‘Without restoring the original coastline, we cannot solve this problem sustainably,’ said the professor.

Yet those who remain in Timbulsloko refuse to surrender to the elements.

Sulkan insists he will stay to keep his kindergarten open and teach children like those who once stood on the now engulfed street.

“As long as there are still neighbors, there are still houses, I’m staying here,” he said.


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Image Source : news.yahoo.com

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