Misnawati Dewi, 45, could only stare in shock from the second floor of her two-storey home in East Jakarta as floodwaters inundated the ground level. The situation was a grim reminder of the floods which struck Jakarta in 2007, when she almost lost her oldest son to the surging waters.

“Flooding has become a part of our lives here, since we settled down in Jakarta 25 years ago,” she said. "Usually, if it starts to rain in the morning and continues for a long time we will start to move our valuables to the second floor.”

The floods were triggered when the Cipinang River embankment collapsed due to ongoing heavy rains in mid-April. The disaster also affected the City of Bekasi, Bogor and Karawang, with water levels rising as high as 300 centimetres in some areas. Initial assessments by the Indonesian Red Cross Society’s (Palang Merah Indonesia) Emergency Response teams revealed that at least 4,300 houses were inundated during the floods, displacing 2,200 people. Activities at hundreds of public facilities including schools and health centres were disrupted by the floods.

At the height of the emergency, the Red Cross deployed 4 ambulance units, 4 rubber boats and 21 personnel to assist with evacuating the affected people. Red Cross staff and volunteers distributed food for 2,100 people in coordination with the local government while the national society’s headquarters in Jakarta mobilized tarpaulins, blankets, hygiene kits and baby kits to support the emergency operation.

“The Red Cross in the Bekasi District had already made preparations before the rainy season started,” explained Ilham Nurahman, a logistician at the Indonesian Red Cross headquarters. “When the intense rains continued for more than two hours, we immediately sent an assessment team and an ambulance to flood-prone areas.”

Recognizing the challenges faced by these communities, the Indonesian Red Cross, together with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and supported by the Zurich Insurance Group, is implementing a Community Flood Resilience programme in the areas surrounding the rivers of Ciliwung, Citarum and Bengawan Solo. The programme involves 21 communities in seven regions and 4 provinces. It aims to develop a more effective solutions for reducing disaster risks and building community resilience. One of these solutions is the formation of Community Based Action Team members within each of the disaster-prone areas.

“These Community Based Action Team members come from various backgrounds and also include youths and women,” said Surendra Kumar Regni, the IFRC’s Disaster Risk Reduction Delegate in Indonesia. “They will receive various trainings, such as how to perform assessments after a disaster and how to create a contingency plan, followed by disaster simulations with the Red Cross.” The communities are also encouraged to plant palm and mangrove trees to strengthen the river banks and prevent soil erosion, as well as recycle their garbage into valuable goods such as plastic mats and woven bags.

Suparno, a 62-year-old member of the Community Based Action Team, said that the worst flooding to happen in Jakarta struck in 1966 and 2007, when the water of Keduang river overflowed. “People fled for three days,” he said. “That is why I wanted to be part of this team and help my community prepare for disasters, especially floods.”

The project not only focuses on disasters, but on environmental rehabilitation, proper waste management, and the use of technology to warn communities about impending disasters.

A Mobile App, the Flood Early Warning Early Action System (FEWEAS), was launched earlier in March this year through a collaboration between the Indonesian Red Cross, the IFRC, the Bandung Institute of Technology and private companies. “The App provides flood alerts, information about current flood situations within the country and can be accessed using a smartphone,” said Dr. Armi Susandi, the team leader for the FEWEAS app development.

Members of the Community Based Action Team can use the information they receive from the App to inform their response when it comes to dealing with a flood situation. They can also upload photos, videos or any relevant information into the App itself, to be shared with others. The Red Cross is currently using the App to monitor water levels and rainfall.

The efforts by the Red Cross to strengthen the resilience of communities have been commended and welcomed by the Surakarta City government. In his written speech, the Mayor of Surakarta said that the disaster vulnerability faced by the city has to be managed with collaboration and innovation, which will benefit communities who live near the Bengawan Solo river basin.

This blog was first published in Relief Web.

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