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Floods tarnish Jakarta's business image
Business groups in Indonesia are urging the government to take urgent steps to prevent future flooding disasters, which they warn will drive international investors away, as Helen Brown reports.

Floods have become a way of life for the people of Jakarta with their city regularly swamped by torrential rain.

Last month's deluge was worse than most and 30 people lost their lives. It exposed once again just how unprepared Indonesia's capital is to deal with natural disaster.

Indonesia correspondent, Helen Brown, reports from Jakarta.
(Footage of Marco Kusumawijaya's house plays)

HELEN BROWN: Like many Jakartans, Marco Kusumawijaya has a long clean up ahead. His street was flooded by a torrent of water that came through when a major canal nearby broke its banks.

His wife managed to save important family documents but not much else as the floodwaters came in.

MARCO KUSUMAWIJAYA, URBAN PLANNER: All the furniture moved around. Our freezer fell over. And now the mud got into our cupboards and my books are wet. All my shoes are destroyed.

HELEN BROWN: Marco Kusumawijaya isn't just any resident cleaning up a muddy mess. He's also an urban planner and sustainable development activist.

And he says there were signs well before that the canal's levee bank was weak and that authorities have failed to do the proper checks.

MARCO KUSUMAWIJAYA: You know for some time last year I already saw some water seeping out on that side, on the street side. And that makes me think that it might be some sign of this collapse.

(Footage of the flood waters plays)

HELEN BROWN: The canal was taken water beyond its capacity. And when the levee bank broke, the water coursed down through Jakarta's streets, turning major roads into brown murky rivers and pushing floodwaters right up to some of its most prestigious real estate.

(Footage of people in the flood waters plays)

At the flood's height, more than 45,000 people were displaced from their homes. 32 died.

That's bad enough but there's a huge economic cost as well. Business groups say the floods have put Jakarta's growth and reputation at risk.

SARMAN SIMANJORANG, JAKARTA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY (translation): If this isn't solved, we're worried that in the future the floods will go higher and will paralyse the city's economy.

HELEN BROWN: When Jakarta stops it affects the rest of the country. Around 60 per cent of Indonesia's economic activity is linked to the capital. The city's business chamber estimates that around $US155,000 was being lost every hour.

And it warns, if the problems aren't fixed, international investors will go elsewhere.

SARMAN SIMANJORANG (translation): This flooding has become a major problem in Jakarta. This flood has caused the transportation chain to stop. The distribution is stopped, the logistics chain has been cut off, and trade transactions had to stop. This is what makes the business world worried.

HELEN BROWN: The Public Works Ministry points out that compared to the floods in 2007, less people and property have been affected. And improvements have been made.

It's now speeding up measures to prevent future floods, including the construction of a spillway to divert floodwaters to another large under used canal.

But wet and weary Jakartans wonder why the work wasn't done before. And the government doesn't really have an answer.

DR MOHAMMED HASAN, WATER RESOURCES, PUBLIC WORKS MINISTRY: That's something that is one of the, you know, the weaknesses of human beings. Whenever disaster comes then they realise that that is because of our weaknesses in handling ecosystems.

HELEN BROWN: For Jakarta's new governor the flooding has put pressure on his recent election promises to fix the city.

JOKO WIDODO, GOVERNOR OF JAKARTA: Yeah, yeah, yeah, of course I am surprised, because the water from here is go until our main street (inaudible). But I'm sure we can handle it. We can handle it.

(Photographs of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in floodwaters are shown)

HELEN BROWN: The president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was shown in publicity shots wading about the palace grounds after agreeing to open them to flood overflow.

It was the same week the president met the leaders of the Argentina and Japan. Despite efforts to make it seem it was business as usual, the city's flashy cosmopolitan image was taking a bath.

SARMAN SIMANJORANG (translation): We believe that the government is capable of mitigating the floods but they never put their focus on that. If five years ago the government really did focus, this year's flood would never have happened.

HELEN BROWN: The part of the canal wall that collapsed is being mended. It's being fortified with rocks and sand. And as you can see that work is still going on.

But it's a temporary solution, one that officials hope will hold until the end of the wet season when permanent repairs can be made.

But it's clear that if Jakarta wants to be taken seriously, it needs to do more than a patch up.
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