Indonesia: Semarang

According to a survey of some parts of the Banjir Kanal Timur (East Flood Canal) area in Semarang City, there are several findings that are considered to be problems. The situation has become difficult because of the rapid urbanization that has the impact of increasing the needs for infrastructure because of the pressure of increasing population and its domino effect on the environment. Some of the visible problems in the area include slums and squatters and the lack of open space.

The increase of population each year causes higher occupancy. However, people cannot afford proper accommodation. This disconnection creates a problem which is the emergence of slums and squatters along the riverbank of the East Flood Canal. Not only does this affect land-ownership, legality, and regulation issues, but also has impacts on the environment. The riverbank lost its function of protecting the sustainability of the river because of it is being occupied as a place to live instead of being an open space. The existence of slums and squatters on top of riverbank has caused a reduction in the water catchment area and also unmanaged waste disposal along the riverbank as well. These conditions are not ideal for sustainability and increase the risk of flooding.

Nowadays, dense settlements are growing along the East Flood Canal. Not only are the people prone to flood, they also have low standards of living. The accessibility is also really poor. Some neighborhood streets are only 0.5 - 1.5 meters wide and the houses are huddled next to each other. The visible lack of open space and circulation in the neighborhood is not conducive for proper living conditions.

The density of settlements around the East Flood Canal. (Photo credit: Diponegoro University Students)

Waterfront Settlement
Waterfront settlement is located directly on a riverbank, on the edge of a lake or the sea, where the residents optimally and efficiently use the potential of existing water nearby. Basically, it is a space where settlement has a direct border with water areas (Echols, 2003). According to Wreen (1983), urban waterfronts are understood to br an urban environment located on the edge of water areas or nearby, for example a location of a port area.

In the planning of waterfront areas, there are three dominant aspects, including architecture, engineering, and the socio-cultural aspect. The architectural aspect is related to development of the image and visual characteristics of the area and how to create a waterfront area that meets the aesthetic values. The engineering aspect is related to structure and construction that fits with the environment’s characteristics and is able to face the risks found in waterfront areas, such as flood, erosion, etc. Finally, the socio-cultural aspect is related to the purpose of improving quality of life. It is about how people can gain benefit by living in a waterfront area and at the same time protect and preserve the natural environment, and to make sure that their activity is not incompatible with sustainability. The elements of planning for waterfront areas include zoning regulation, transportation access/circulation, public space management, building mass and structure, and sanitation management.

Responding to Problems along East Flood Canal, Semarang
With the condition of dense settlements and their proximity to the river, coupled with the presence of illegal settlements on the riverbank, people living there often experience floods and erosion that occur when the river overflows and reaches the settlements. Some households whose homes are inundated by water overflowing from the river choose to move temporarily, but some others choose to stay.

According to interviews with some residents and community leaders, there has been discussion and planning by the government to control and organize the squatters. Squatter communities have been involved in series of forum discussions and realize that the place they are living now is unlawful and not appropriately designated for settlement. They also realize that their unorganized settlement is causing greater risk of flooding. Nevertheless, they are already used to these living conditions and they don’t have a problem with living in packed houses. There’s nothing much they can do to improve their quality of life at this moment. They tend to accept whatever plan or program that the government will implement to address the problems along the East Flood Canal.

In dealing with the problems in the East Flood Canal area, Semarang City Government has taken several actions and made plans to reduce the impact and risk including river normalization. The government also built a 150 meter embankment and a 65 meter bamboo gabion as part of flood and landslide protection. Meanwhile, to tackle the slums and squatters situation, the government has already planned to do something about the illegal settlements along the riverbank. They are going to reorganize the land use according to the city master plan. They also plan to build public flats and possibly relocate the current squatter residents in this way. However this plan has been a rumor among community without any clear realization up until now. Some of the community also expressed their unwillingness to live in flats because they are not familiar with them and are afraid of not being able to adjust.

Urgency of finding solutions
The existence of slums and squatters along the riverbank of the East Flood Canal has high possibility of jeopardizing environmental conditions there. If there has to be residential land use there, then it should be properly regulated. For example, the evidence has shown that waste disposal is poorly managed and people tend to throw their garbage into the river (including those who live in the upstream part) which causes accumulation of garbage in the downstream area. This waste disposal problem is affecting the water quality while also increasing the risk of flood as a result of sedimentation and blockage of the canal’s flow. Some plans fpr an improvement program involving relocation to vertical housing or urban kampong should be measured thoroughly.

By comparison, Jakarta and Surabaya have introduced this vertical housing as part of relocation programs to revitalize particular areas in the city so they can be in accordance with the master plan. Vertical housing or flats can help the government to optimize the land. Living in flats is still not a common thing for urban poor in Indonesia, including Semarang. However, this is necessary to allocate more green open space and water catchment areas, which is part of a strategy to reduce the risk of flooding. Urban kampong improvement programs are also needed to create a better place to live, especially regarding the infrastructure, facilities, including the sanitation which is one of the main issues there.

Intensive dialogues should be conducted to receive feedback from the residents and to make sure they understand clearly about the program and mechanism. It is clear that new buildings in which to live will offer better infrastructure and facilities, but often the community said that they don’t want to be relocated because they don’t want to be taken from their roots. They don’t want to lose their neighbors, the nearness to their workplace, and their familiarity with their neighborhood. Despite them living illegally, relocation should be done thoughtfully and without harm.

Outside of physical improvement approach, there should be another focus for human development in the area as well. Many of them are unskilled laborers that don’t have regular jobs. Their low level of education also caused their lack of awareness about the environment. If it is possible, government can work together with the private sector or NGOs to create job opportunities in accordance with skill improvement programs for the residents. Better economic conditions will trigger a better ability on the part of the community to be more resilient. Some programs and supporting facilities to increase community capacity, skill, and knowledge will be beneficial for them and the government as well. It is important to educate them about the proper way of living. This is essential to avoid ineffectiveness of a neighborhood improvement program where there is no behavioral change even though the physical conditions has been improved.

The blog is made by Urban and Regional Planning Department students of Diponegoro University as part of Youth Program activity

* Editor: Nyoman Prayoga

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