Kampung Apung, or Floating Village, in West Jakarta’s Kapuk subdistrict wasn’t always out on the water.
“When the factories began operating in the area in the 1980s, we got flooded almost constantly,” said Ira, a 67-year-old resident who has lived in the area for 46 years. “Year after year the water never fully receded, so in the 1990s we decided to build our houses on stilts.”
Kampung Apung is the name given to the RW 01 community unit, home to 118 families in the Kapuk Poglar urban ward.
A clogged storm drain that should have channeled excess water out to the Angke River, combined with dramatic land subsidence caused by the mushrooming of factories and unfettered extraction of groundwater, turned it into a rainwater catchment basin.
When major floods hit Jakarta in 2007, the area was swamped by up to four meters of water. Most of the homes, meanwhile, had only been built two meters above the normal water line.
So Ira and the other residents were forced to build new homes on top of their old ones.
“The community unit chief had the residential pathways elevated and then paved in concrete,” she said. “He also lined the paths with potted plants. Before the path was done, we were trapped in our houses. We rarely came out.”
The area also used to have a 100-square meter public cemetery and a funeral home. Since the 2007 flood, the home has been abandoned and part of the cemetery has become a swamp.
Risan H. Mustar, the Kapuk Poglar urban ward deputy chief, says the local authorities are trying to find a long-term solution to the state of constant flooding at Kampung Apung.
“We’ve approached different offices to help us, including the tourism office, which proposed making the area a tourist attraction,” he said.
The West Jakarta mayor’s office proposed relocating the residents and building subsidized housing in the area for low-income families.
“The problem is, the residents own the land and they are reluctant to move,” Risan said.
“Especially when the state could only buy their land at the taxable value [NJOP], which is lower than the market value.”
The urban ward head said they are turning several of the abandoned homes, all of them submerged, into catfish farms.
“We provided people with the fish spawn and tools required to run the farms,” Risan said.
“We also provided them training to promote awareness about water-related diseases such as dengue fever, skin rashes and others, and we encouraged them to apply for the transmigration program if they wanted.”
Since 2008, the residents have also enjoyed a floating library and schoolhouse, donated by companies and nongovernmental organizations, where children can learn English, use computers and get help with their homework.
However, Syahril Hermansyah, 28, who travels to Kampung Apung from Pedongkelan in West Jakarta to teach the children, hopes to see the swamp drained because it is a health hazard.
“There have been two cases of children drowning,” he said. “This place isn’t safe for children. There should be more fences and warning signs around.”
For Mutiah, 42, who has lived in Kampung Apung for more than 20 years, the swamp holds no charm as a floating village.
“My four-year-old son drowned two weeks ago when he fell into the water,” she said. “I don’t want the same thing to happen to other people.”
She also supports the idea of draining the area, saying she cannot afford to build a new house on top of her current one if the water rises again.
“Draining this swamp would be a much better idea than giving us a floating village that doesn’t really float,” Mutiah said.
Lina Novianti, 30, who has lived in the area all her life, says the filthy water becomes a serious problem when it rises and floods their homes during sustained heavy rains.
“The flooding is usually because of plastic waste clogging up the water channel,” she said. “We try to clean the area every week, but somehow the plastic waste keeps on coming.”
Lina says she has heard about the proposal to turn the floating village into a tourism attraction, but says what the residents urgently need is for the basin to be drained.
“What we really want is to live on dry land,” she said. “Besides the plastic waste and the constant flooding, there are other problems, like snakes, which are everywhere.”
Aini, 60, another long-time resident of Kampung Apung, said she hoped the government would do something about the water before residents are forced out of their homes by another major flood.
“Instead of turning this place into a floating village, it would be better if they filled in the swamp with earth so we can continue to live here without having to worry about building new homes on top of our current ones after the next major flood hits,” she says.
Heavy flooding tends to occur about every five years in Jakarta. The next large deluge is expected in 2012.