flooding jakarta january 2020
A horse pulls a carriage through a flooded road following overnight rain in Jakarta on January 1, 2020. DASRIL ROSZANDI / AFP
The VICE Guide to Right Now

Here’s Why You Should Care About the Jakarta Floods and How You Can Help

The floods have claimed and displaced more lives than Australia’s bushfires, yet international media is paying the crisis little attention.

Only a week into 2020, and freak weather events in Indonesia and Australia have already caused untold devastation. What’s more, they show no signs of stopping.

Scientists say Jakartans should brace themselves for more rain in the coming week, just as thousands are beginning to recover from the worst flooding the city has seen since 1996.

On the morning of January 1, a significant portion of the greater metropolitan Jakarta area, a megacity of 30 million, was submerged after nearly 24 hours of non-stop rain. Videos recorded by netizens show cars floating downstream, water infiltrating the second storey of buildings, and locals travelling by inflatable rafts.


The death toll reached 66 on January 7, some due to hypothermia or electric shock, while others drowned or were crushed by landslides. This is more than the number of deaths caused by Australia’s bushfires, yet international media is paying the crisis little attention.

Nearly 40,000 people have evacuated their homes and gone to temporary shelters in malls and hospitals. While wealthier areas remained relatively safe, poorer communities in the city’s outskirts experienced the worst of the floods.

While climate change certainly plays a role in the severity of this year’s floods, several combined circumstances make Jakarta a flood-prone area.

The city’s geographical location makes it extremely susceptible to floods, with flooding recorded as early as the 17th century. The colonial-era city planning has turned out to be unfit, setting Jakarta up for disaster. The city is roughly at sea level and 13 rivers flow through the region. This means that even short periods of rainfall can inundate the city.

Other factors stemming from human activity, like littering, groundwater extraction, and urbanisation make the situation all the more deadly.

Many of the flood’s primary causes are systemic. For example, the Jakarta administration has yet to announce a concrete solution to excessive groundwater extraction that makes Jakarta the world’s fastest-sinking city. Amidst a city budget crisis in November 2019, Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan cut disaster mitigation budgets that were intended for flood prevention.


The governor has been the target of criticism for his lack of action leading up to the floods, as well as his decision to spend more on the upcoming Formula E event than flood mitigation.

While the situation is dire, there are some things you can do to help.


The Singapore Red Cross has already pledged S$50,000 (US$37,000) for family kits, hygiene kits, diapers, sleeping bags, blankets, and clean water.

Singapore-based non-governmental organisation Mercy Relief is also accepting donations until February 6 on crowdfunding platform giving.sg, with the aim of distributing solar lights, hot meals, and clean water to evacuees. The organisation has deployed a disaster response team to Jakarta in partnership with a local NGO. Donate here.

NGO Aksi Cepat Tanggap (ACT) has also set up a page on crowdfunding website indonesiadermawan.com, where you can donate clean water, food for community kitchens, rescue tools, and hygiene products. Indonesians can donate by bank transfer, while non-Indonesians can donate via credit card. Donate here.

Start an online fundraiser

There are currently very few online fundraisers available for those outside Indonesia, so starting one would be a huge help. They can be done by partnering with local organisations, setting up campaigns using websites like GoFundMe and kitabisa.com, and sharing them on your social media accounts.

Sign a petition

For thousands of families, it may take years to recover from this flood. Many netizens believe that instead of shelling out millions on a the Formula-E event set to take place in June, the Jakarta administration should focus its resources on helping these families recuperate their losses and preventing future flooding. Nearly 10,000 people have petitioned the International Automobile Federation to cancel the event so that city resources may be directed to flood victims. Sign here.

Keep waterways litter-free

This one should be obvious. Jakarta — and Indonesia as a whole — has a trash problem, which worsens floods by clogging waterways. At many locations where the water has receded, the recent flood left behind piles of trash in alleyways and on rooftops. Jakarta’s poorest areas lack a trash collection system, forcing residents to dispose of waste in nearby rivers. Forty percent of Jakartans also lack of a water delivery system, resulting in residents digging illegal wells that further worsen the sinking and flooding crises.

While much of this is caused by ineffective government policies, changes in your daily life can help too. This means adopting a zero-waste lifestyle, limiting the use of single-use plastics, and disposing of trash properly.