Indonesians pay high price to shield homes from rising sea levels

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Bamboo sticks and nets are used as barriers at Tambakrejo village, which is affected by rising sea level and land subsidence, in Semarang, central Java in Indonesia. (Reuters)
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A damaged wooden boat is pictured as a man fishes at Tambaklorok village, which has been affected by rising sea level and land subsidence, in Semarang, Central Java province of Indonesia. (Reuters)
Updated 01 December 2019

Indonesians pay high price to shield homes from rising sea levels

  • ‘If you have a house on land and then work at sea, it’s hard. But now I work at sea and I live at sea’
  • Millions of people face risk of a sinking coastline on Indonesia’s most populous island of Java

TAMBAKLOROK, Indonesia: Indonesian fisherman Miskan says the once-abundant catches he used to enjoy have been dwindling in recent years on this stretch of the Java Sea.
His meagre income is being further strained by having to borrow cash to shore up his home against lapping waves coming further inland on this vulnerable coastline.
“If you have a house on land and then work at sea, it’s hard. But now I work at sea and I live at sea,” said Miskan, 44, who uses one name, speaking outside his small home, where a caged songbird hangs from the rafters.
His community’s battle against inundation, blamed on both man-made environmental destruction and the impact of climate change, reflects the risks posed to millions of people by a sinking coastline on Indonesia’s most populous island of Java.
The flooding in Tambaklorok in Central Java province is now so bad that Miskan uses a window to enter his home since his door is half blocked by dirt piled up to keep out the sea.
“It’s hard to save money when you’re a fisherman,” he said.
Miskan had to borrow from neighbors to pay roughly 7.2 million rupiah ($500) to hire workers to truck in earth.
Thousands of people in Asia and Europe joined rallies demanding more action on climate change on Friday, aiming to force political leaders to come up with urgent solutions at a United Nations conference that starts on Monday.
Indonesia, an archipelago of thousands of islands, has about 81,000 km (50,300 miles) of coastline, making it particularly vulnerable to climate change along with neighbors like the Philippines.
It is also home to more than a fifth of the world’s mangrove forests, which naturally help keep out high tidal waters. But for years, coastal communities have chopped down mangrove forests to clear the way for fish and shrimp farms, and for rice paddies.
The government has scrambled to work with environmental groups to replant mangroves, build dykes and relocate threatened villages.
But many residents, often poor fishermen, are either reluctant to leave their homes or simply have nowhere to go further inland on Java, home to around 140 million people.
“It is impossible for us to move due to economic reasons, so even though there’s tidal floods, I’ll stay,” said Abdul Hadi, whose house in Tambaklorok is now below sea levels and the road.
Another villager, Solihatun, 51, regularly needs her roof removed so that the height of the walls can be raised as earth is spread in and around her house. She says the flooding is sometimes so bad her grandchildren can swim in the living room.
“Thank God for bank loans, so it’s easier to pay off the debt every month,” she said, adding she had spent over 5 million rupiah for the last renovation.
Feri Prihantoro of the Bina Karta Lestari Foundation, a non-government organization (NGO) focused on sustainable development, said the area’s coastline was particularly vulnerable to flooding and high tides due to land subsidence because of the extraction of underground water and higher sea levels.
Further along the Java coast, Jakarta is also prone to flooding with two-fifths of the city lying below sea level.
With this partly in mind, President Joko Widodo announced in August a $33 billion plan to move the capital to Borneo island.

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Daudzai

Updated 42 min 46 sec ago

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Daudzai

  • Pakistan played positive role in US-Taliban peace talks, says diplomat

PESHAWAR: Afghanistan’s newly appointed special envoy for Pakistan has had put “mending political relations” between the two estranged nations as one of his top priorities.

Mohammed Umer Daudzai, on Tuesday said that his primary focus would be to ensure lasting peace in Afghanistan and maintain strong ties with Pakistan, especially after Islamabad’s key role in the Afghan peace process earlier this year.

In an exclusive interview, the diplomat told Arab News: “Two areas have been identified to focus on with renewed vigor, such as lasting peace in Afghanistan and cementing Pak-Afghan bilateral ties in economic, social, political and other areas.”

In order to achieve these aims, he said, efforts would be intensified “to mend political relations” between the neighboring countries.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,600-kilometer porous border and have been at odds for years. Bonds between them have been particularly strained due to a deep mistrust and allegations of cross-border infiltration by militants.

Kabul has blamed Islamabad for harboring Taliban leaders after they were ousted from power in 2001. But Pakistan has denied the allegations and, instead, accused Kabul of providing refuge to anti-Pakistan militants – a claim rejected by Afghanistan.

Daudzai said his immediate priority would be to focus on “political reconciliation” between the two countries, especially in the backdrop of a historic peace agreement signed in February this year when Pakistan played a crucial role in facilitating a troop withdrawal deal between the US and the Taliban to end the decades-old Afghan conflict. “Afghanistan needs political reconciliation which the Afghan government has already been working on to achieve bottom-up harmony,” he added.

Daudzai’s appointment Monday by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took place days after Islamabad chose Mohammed Sadiq as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special representative for Afghanistan.

Reiterating the need to maintain strong bilateral ties with all of its neighbors, Daudzai said Pakistan’s role was of paramount importance to Afghanistan.

“Pakistan has a positive role in the US-Taliban peace talks, and now Islamabad could play a highly significant role in the imminent intra-Afghan talks. I will explore all options for a level-playing field for the success of all these initiatives,” he said, referring in part to crucial peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban which were delayed due to a stalemate in a prisoner exchange program – a key condition of the Feb. 29 peace deal.

Under the agreement, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and around 1,000 government prisoners were to be freed by March 10. So far, Afghanistan has released 3,000 prisoners, while the Taliban have freed 500. Daudzai said that while dates had yet to be finalized, the intra-Afghan dialogue could begin “within weeks.”

He added: “A date for intra-Afghan talks hasn’t been identified yet because there is a stalemate on prisoners’ release. But I am sure they (the talks) will be kicked off within weeks.”

Experts say Daudzai’s appointment could give “fresh momentum” to the stalled process and revitalize ties between the two estranged neighbors.

“Mohammed Sadiq’s appointment...could lead Kabul-Islamabad to a close liaison and better coordination,” Irfanullah Khan, an MPhil scholar and expert on Afghan affairs, told Arab News.

Daudzai said that he would be visiting Islamabad to kickstart the process as soon as the coronavirus disease-related travel restrictions were eased.

Prior to being appointed as the special envoy, he had served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan from April 2011 to August 2013.