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Indonesia is one of the countries most at risk from climate change impacts.

BUT WWF Report 2004 showed that the country’s annual temperatures have risen and precipitation patterns have changed, showing decreases in precipitation in some regions and increases in others.

“Reduced rainfall during critical times of the year can lead to a high risk of drought, uncertainty about water availability and therefore uncertainty about the ability to produce agricultural goods, economic instability and a sharp increase in the number of people suffering from malnutrition, hindering progress in the fight against poverty. and food insecurity,” the report says. warned.

He also noted that the increase in rainfall during the rainy seasons will lead to a greater risk of floods such as Flooding in Jakarta in February 2007.

Indonesia is a densely populated region with almost 300 million people. The Jakarta metropolis is at particular risk of the devastating impacts of climate change and is estimated to “about 25% of the area of ​​the capital will be flooded in 2050“as a result of rising sea levels and flooding the city.

Nasheen Mahtani was born and raised in Indonesia, specifically in Jakarta. She witnessed how climate change affected her first home in real time. Here she shares how that experience led her to become the director of Yayasan Peta Bencana (Disaster Map Foundation), a Southeast Asian NGO that works on community-led climate change adaptation. Mahtani now lives in Bali, but her work continues to improve the lives of people in Jakarta.


I would call myself an inhabitant of this Earth, just like you and millions of other species.

I am also a daughter, sister, friend, colleague, committed to making a difference in the world. What matters to me is that we leave things better than we find them and that we bring the joy of life to those we meet. It is important to me that everyone has the right to a safe and healthy life, access to education and freedom of expression.

I am officially the Director of Yayasan Peta Bencana (Disaster Map Foundation), a Southeast Asian NGO working on community-led climate change adaptation. Since 2013, our team has been developing open source technologies to enable every resident to participate in disaster recovery and risk mitigation efforts, decentralize emergency response, and democratize emergency decision support tools.

I only realized how special my childhood in Indonesia was when I first started living outside the country. Ecologically, culturally and socially, Indonesia is one of the most diverse places in the world, and living here one encounters the greatest diversity of people and species – there is no better teacher than to immerse yourself in this depth and breadth of diversity throughout the day. – today’s foundation.

I was born and raised in Jakarta, a metropolitan area of ​​31 million people located on the coast of one of the world’s most disaster-prone regions. In Jakarta, contrasts of socio-economic inequality are clearly visible in daily life; from how the city is built (with elite enclave complexes adjacent to dense villages) to the types of interaction and exchange that take place between the “formal” and “informal” sectors of the city.

Therefore, it is not surprising that from an early age we are already clearly aware of our role in these comparisons, namely, for us this meant that when we are able to give (and we almost always are), our duty is to take care of those around us. The difficulties that my own family faced throughout life made me especially aware of the disparity in access to basic human rights, especially education. I have always felt extremely fortunate and grateful that I was given access to an education without barriers, and it was only because of the decisions and hard work of those who came before me.

Realizing this as a child, I have always considered it my duty to bestow the same upon others, to the best of my ability. Since high school, much of my volunteer work has focused on educating young people in underprivileged areas, and I think those experiences have had a lot to do with my work today.

Nasheen Mahtani poses for a portrait at his home in Bali, Indonesia, May 2022.
Image: Putu Sayoga for Global Citizen

I experienced the effects of the climate crisis long before I knew what it was. Jakarta has seasonal monsoons, and as a child, we were used to heavy rainfall for at least six months of the year. As a child, I enjoyed the long monsoon rains; I was very happy to see an overcast sky, signaling a prolonged downpour. I enjoyed how the monsoon drowned out all other sounds in the metropolis. However, the feeling of comfort I associated with the monsoon began to change as the weather became more and more erratic. The monsoon rains were no longer constant, they became more and more unpredictable, occurring in short, intense downpours without any definite pattern.

In 2002, Jakarta experienced the worst flood in history (at the time). It was the first memory of our house being evacuated due to the flood. As a child, my biggest concern was not being able to go to school for several days and not knowing how long it would last. Every year since 2002 family and table talk about the flood has become more frequent. The water spot left by the flood waters on the walls of our living room increased by several inches every year. This is the first time I heard about the flooding of Jakarta.

More than 40% of Jakarta is below sea level, and according to World Bank research, the city is sinking an average of 5 to 10 centimeters per year, with 25 centimeters or more in the most affected areas. Since Jakarta is located on deltaic soils, land subsidence is accelerated due to uncontrolled pumping of groundwater or removal of water from the land on which it is located.

Privatization, access, and distribution of water have a long colonial history in Jakarta, and unequal access to water, physically built into the distribution system, is one of many factors that explain Jakarta’s flooding. To compensate for the large gaps in water supply left by the official distribution system, thousands of wells over 140 meters deep in factories, hotels, shopping malls and other facilities, as well as yard wells for water extraction. from the ground.

Jakarta is also one of the fastest urbanizing cities in the world, and with the rapid concrete pouring of the city’s surfaces, there is less room for rainwater to seep into the ground and replenish groundwater. More than 97% of Jakarta is covered with concrete and asphalt, and even during heavy rains, water does not penetrate back into the ground. With groundwater extraction rates far exceeding the rate of groundwater replenishment, the aquifers on which the city rests shrink and the city sinks under its own weight.

The Kelurahan Menteng area of ​​Jakarta, which is prone to floods, was taken in November 2019.
Image: Andri Tambunan for Global Citizen

Jakarta is also located in a shallow delta that fills with water from mountain runoff to the south during heavy rains. The 13 rivers that flow through the city to drain this watershed were combined with Dutch colonial canals to manage the city’s water. In times of climate change, as we face more intense weather conditions, these infrastructures are being torn apart by the growing pressure of extreme weather. The most catastrophic floods in Jakarta in recent years were the result of sudden and unexpected infrastructure failures.

In Jakarta, floods rarely follow topographic lines. Rather, flooding is often a combination of collapsed canal walls, broken water pumps, power outages that disable water pumps, the release of water from upstream catchments, and the diversion of water through locks. With all these factors, in addition to increasingly erratic weather changes, it is becoming increasingly difficult to predict floods.

However, even though residents may not be able to predict monsoon patterns in the same way they used to, digital media networks have provided residents with new ways to organize themselves in real time.

When flooding occurs, Jakarta residents actively post on social media to alert each other to flooded areas and share community response efforts. In 2013, a team of researchers led by Dr. Thomas Holderness and Dr. Etienne Turpin concluded that if there was a way to quickly filter the vast amount of data shared on social media, that data could be used to support residents all over the city in making timely decisions to minimize losses.

The team has developed an open source software called CogniCity which [searches] for specific keywords (such as flood, earthquake, fire, etc.). When it detects a post that uses these keywords, the humanitarian chatbot (colloquially known as “BencanaBot” or “DisasterBot”) sends an automated response asking them to confirm their situation by sending a simple distress report. As soon as the user submits a report, it is immediately displayed on the online map in real time. The card is designed to be mobile-friendly and extremely easy to transfer data, so it can be easily accessed by anyone with the simplest mobile phone connected to the internet.

Since 2013, millions of residents have been using the real-time map to view and share real-time disaster information. It has also been adopted by the National Emergency Management Agency (BNPB) to review and respond to residents’ needs. The software effectively turns social media into a real-time emergency coordination system, supporting residents in their efforts to adapt to a rapidly changing climate.

Our team is currently turning social media into a platform for real-time coordination of mutual aid and social solidarity. This is the future of urbanism, in which surviving cities will rely on adaptive infrastructure that will be created and maintained collectively. We still have time to redirect planetary computing to create an alternative urban future and ensure the evolution of prosperous, fair, equitable human societies for all.

Nasheen Mahtani works from his home in Bali, Indonesia in May 2022. She is the director of Yayasan Peta Bencana, a non-profit organization where she leads the development of disaster relief software.
Image: Putu Sayoga for Global Citizen

In terms of interventions, I would like to see greater accountability for the global commitment to address the climate crisis and much bolder, much more immediate action. I would like to see a holistic approach to addressing climate change – a recognition that climate justice and social justice are intertwined – and integrated approaches to health. I would like local and indigenous knowledge to be brought to the fore as legitimate and necessary forms of science that shape politics and our ways of interacting with the world, with each other and with the environment. We certainly see this change happening from the ground up. I would like to see the courage and bravery of our leaders joining us.

Our work is built on a transdisciplinary, intersectoral, inclusive approach with the widest range of people, so we welcome everyone who contacts us. As the well-known Indonesian expression says: “Disasters affect everyone.” There are always useful ways to work together.

Nasheen Mahtani poses for a portrait at his home in Bali, Indonesia, May 2022.
Image: Putu Sayoga for Global Citizen

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