Data. Maps. Storytelling.

Tidal Floods in Central Java Put Womens Health at Risk

Settlements in Kelurahan Kandang Panjang, North Pekalongan Subdistrict, Pekalongan City has been besieged for a dozen years due to rising sea levels, due to climate change and land subsidence caused by deep groundwater extraction. Credit: Isnawati

December 24, 2019

This story was first published on Suara Merdeka (in Indonesian) on 19 December 2019.

By Isnawati

It has now been six months since Ike Janny Istiqomah,16, has had to move places, after she and her family had been forced to abandon their home on the coastal city of Pekalongan in Central Java, that was slowly succumbing to the years of tidal floods that is plaguing the area.

The tidal floods, known locally as Rob, has inundated her house and the surrounding areas in the Kandang Panjang urban ward in the city’s North Pekalongan sub-district for dozens of years, never receding. The sea water, that reached between 40 to 50 centimeter-high, closed access to Ike’s home from the main street.

Ike’s father had first made a bamboo bridge to allow dry access to the house but as the tidal water rose increasingly, it got submerged and finally gave in. Ike and her two younger siblings had then to wade in the deep water just to go to school.

Unable to see his offsprings having to get all wet just to go to school, Ike’s father then bought them a canoe but after a while it leaked and could no longer be used. At the same time, the walls of their home, began go succumb to the years of inundation and some started to crumble. In May 2019, Ike’s family finally decided to abandon the home that they have been living in since 1998.

Ike’s family is only one of the thousands of families in Pekalongan city who are being affected by the tidal floods caused by climate change. Data from the Development Planning, Research and Regional Development Office of Pekalongan City showed that up to 2018, the tidal floods had already submerged 1,404 hectares, or almost a third of the city’s entire surface of 4,525 hectares.

Nina of Pekalongan City’s 27 urban wards were submerged by the tidal floods — Kandang Panjang, Bandengan, Padukuhan kraton, Panjang Baru, Panjang Wetan, Krapyak and Degayu in North Pekalongan sub-district and Pasirkratonkramat and Tirto in West Pekalongan sub-district.

A total of 9,301 families live in those nine urban wards. Besides damaging homes, roads and other public facilities, the years of tidal floods have also prevented farming on hundreds of hectares of agricultural land. 

A research conducted in Pekalongan City in 2018 by an expert in geodesics, Dr. Heri Andreas ST, MT from the Faculty of Earth Science and Technology of the Bandung Institute of Technology, showed that economic loss for land adaptation because of the tidal floods is estimated to have reached Rp 6.810 trillion, while infrastructure loss was at Rp 1.723 trillion. 

Economic loss due to the tidal flooding was estimated to stand at around Rp 244.101 billion to Rp 492.612 billion while relocation costs, if such decision was taken, would reach between Rp 13.076 trillion and Rp 16.086 trillion.

“This is a disaster and therefore there needs to be adaptation and mitigation efforts,” said Andreas.

At the time this story was published, Ike and her family were known to be living with a relative who lives in the same neighbourhood.

Poor sanitation 

The tidal floods has also led to a decline in the quality of environmental sanitation, such as the no longer functioning clean water supply network, latrines and sewages.

While living with the tidal floods, Ike said that she and her family often suffered from itchiness and hives because of the quality and cleanliness of the water that they use daily.

To obtain clean water, Ike and her family has to filter their well water, running the polluted water through layers of small pebble stones.

“Water from the well is filtered with small pebble stones for bathing, while for drinking we take water from the Pamsimas faucet,” she said. Pamsimas, an acronym for community-based provision of drinking water and sanitation, is a service that was started to be provided by the municipal authority in 2008, in addressing the water crisis that arose from the intrusion of sea water. Pamsimas became a solution for those people in the low -income bracket who could not afford the services of the state-owned water utility company for their clean water.

“We take buckets to the water pick up area every time we leave for school, and we pick them up on the way home,” Ike explained.

A resident of Bandengan Village, Pekalongan District North, Kota Pekalongan fetches water from communal toilets managed by the Community Based Urban Sanitation program (SPBM). Credit: Isnawati.


Kholifah, 65, a resident of Bandengan urban ward, also draws water for her daily needs from Pamsimas. “I used to use well water to meet my daily needs but since the tidal floods came, I can no longer consume the well water. It became murky and smelled. Now I get my clean water from Pamsimas,” Kholifah said.

She pays Rp 25,000 for her clean water every month. Pamsimas is managed by the Drinking Water and Sanitation Supply Facility Managing Board formed by the local community.

An analysis of the losses and damages from the impact of climate change on Pekalongan City conducted by Yayasan Bina Karta Lestari (Bintari) in Bandengan ward in 2017, showed that there was an increasing trend for shifting from using personal wells to the services of the municipal water company and Pamsimas because of the worsening well water quality.

The results of the analysis by the Bintari Foundation, a non-governmental organization in the fields of environment and sustainable development, showed that the water quality from wells dug in Bandengan ward was no longer fit for use as either drinking or clean water. Residents of Bandengan thus have to pay an extra expense to obtain clean and drinking water, either through subscription to the municipal water company or from Pamsimas.

The cost of pipe installation for households to get water from Pamsimas stands at between Rp 2 million and Rp 2,1 million for the first year. Annual subscription for the following years stands at around Rp 350,000 to Rp 400,000.

Residents in area submerged by the tidal floods no longer have functioning lavatory and have to use the communal latrines. Kholifah is one of them. She used to have a private latrine but it ceased functioning after the tidal floods began.

Kholifah said she did not have enough money to rebuild her latrine. Her meager income, a daily Rp 20,000 from applying wax on 12 pieces of batik cloth, already has an allotment for buying raw material to raise the floor of her house.

 “I saved, little by little. After getting enough, I bought raw materials to raise the floor of the house. If not raised, water will certainly come into the house when Rob came or it is raining,” Kholifah said.

For some residents living near the river, they simply build makeshift latrines on the banks. Eriviani, 32, a resident of Pasirkratonkramat urban ward, said that a number of people in her neighborhood build such latrines on the Meduri river. She said that raising the floor of the house takes priority over building a latrine in the house.

“I have two small children. I have had to evacuate several times after my house was hit by the sea water. For us, the most important thing is to raise the floor of the house so that water from the water does not come in,” Eriviani said.

Raising floors are one of the ways people adapt to the tidal floods. But ever since the tidal floods began to hit their area in 2000, they have had to raise the floor of their house every year.

Eriviani said that with her husband only selling snacks, his income was very limited and thus the raising of their house’s floor had to be done in stages. “Whenever I have a little saving, I buy material to fill in the floor. In stages, the bedroom first, then the living room and the others come afterward. Just to fill the area to raise the floor we lack funding, what more for building a latrine,” she said.

What they do not realize that sanitations may have a big impact on public health as well as on environmental balance. Water tainted by human fecal matter, can lead to water-borne disease and water-washed diseases. Water-borne disease is caused by consuming tainted water, such as diarrhea, cholera and dysentery. While water-washed diseases are caused by contact with tainted waters, such as through bathing and they include skin infections or irritations.

Based on the data from the Public Health Directorate General’s Community-based Total Sanitation program, up until November 28, 2019, the level of access to sanitation facilities in North Pekalongan sub-district was at 91,08 percent of the 21,248 families there.

In this district, 16,470 families use permanent latrines at home, 3,176 use communal latrines while 1,848 other families do in anywhere they can.

This level of access was the lowest compared to the sub-districts of East Pekalongan which access level was at 93.86 percent, South Pekalongan at 94.49 percent and West Pekalongan had the highest access level at 96.32 percent. East and South Pekalongan are not affected by Rob.


Ten top diseases in affected ares

Women are suffering the most from the impact of the degradation in environmental sanitation quality. They are prone to disease because their daily activities are closely related to water, not only in doing household chores but also for their reproduction health. The nine tidal floods-affected wards in Pekalongan City have between them 54,297 women.

Wasriah, 54, a resident of Pasirkratonkramat ward said that she very often suffers from itching feet. Her feet are often in the flood water because part of her house has had their floor not yet raised.

This condition is compounded by the fact that the batik production factory where she works, is also flooded by tidal water. Wasriah said she seldom wore boots to prevent the bad effect of the flood. “I do not feel free when wearing boots,” she argued.

Eriviani, who is also a health cadre of the Pasirkratonkramat ward, said that she has noted that the most frequent disease suffered by people because of the tidal floods inundations, especially among women were cough and cold, itchiness and diarrheas. As a health cadre, Eriviani connects the village residents with health personnel at village health centers. She also become the person to go to if residents need medicine.

“Every cadre at wards that are affected by the floods are given ointments from the village health center to give to residents complaining of skin diseases. But for other diseases, residents are told to go to the village health centers,” she said.

Besides itchiness, a number of residents in affected areas are also prone to respiratory tract ailments, including pneumonia.

Nina, 36, a resident of Bandengan ward said that her second child, Nadin Asyila Badariah, 6, was diagnosed by doctors as suffering from pneumonia. Nina said that since her birth, Nadin has been sleeping on a bed with water underneath.

“Since the first day she was born, she has been sleeping on a bed with water underneath. The doctor said that that was one of the factors that caused my child to catch pneumonia, because every day she has been inhaling the dampness,” Nina said.

She could not even remember how many time her child had to be treated at the hospital because of the pneumonia. “It has been so many times. Every time she suffers from a little cold, she has difficulties breathing, and we take her to the hospital,” she said.

Based on the records of a number of village health centers in the nine affected urban wards in Pekalongan City, diseases linked to bad sanitations topped the list of diseases suffered by people besides acute infection of the respiratory tract, common cold, gastritis and gastroenteritis.

Top 10 diseases handled by local medical clinics following years of tidal floods. Source: Pekalongan City Health Office.


The head of the Pekalongan City Health Office, Slamet Budiyanto, said that even though the quality of the environment has been degrading because of the tidal floods, there has yet to be any epidemic developing in the nine affected wards.

But to prevent the spread of diseases in those wards, his office is deploying one health personnel for every neighborhood. Eriviani is one of them.

 “Health personnel are deployed down to the RW neighborhood level to make health services closer to the community. It is these health personnel who build communication with residents in each neighborhood. These personnel will ask about the health conditions of residents in an intense manner,” he explained

Besides that, to enhance health services for the people, the Pekalongan City Health Office is renovating health facilities damaged by the tidal floods. “The auxiliary village health center in Bandengan will have its floor raised higher because when the floods hit, the water still comes in,” he said.

Meanwhile, a number of other health facilities will have to be relocated because they are deemed no longer feasible to service the public. One of them is the auxiliary village health center in Pabean. ‘The Auxiliary village health center in Pabean has long been inundated. Access to the location is also difficult because it is often flooded by the tidal floods. Therefore, it will be relocated,” he added.


Soil subsidence

Andreas, the geodesic expert from ITB, said that the main causes for tidal floods in Pekalongan City was not only the rising sea level because of the melting ice in the poles, due to global warming, but also the extraction of deep ground water that is leading to soil subsidence.

Arif Nurdiansyah, a researcher of the Partnership Institute for Government Management, said that based on the institute’s own research using images from the Sentinel Satellite in the 2016-2017 period, subsidence in 15 urban wards in Pekalongan City reached up to 25-34 centimeters a year.

Nurdiansyah said that subsidence was not only taking place in wards on the coast. “The Pringrejo urban ward that is located in the south and quite far from the shores is also affected,” he said.

He said his institute was recommending that the municipal authority in Pekalongan prepares a disaster mitigation program and a masterplan for the handling of the tidal floods as references for a comprehensive mitigation.

“Because women are more affected by the impacts of climate change compared to men, there needs to be a higher women empowerment fund to minimise the impacts,” he said.

Andreas said that a research by a team of the Faculty of Earth Sciences and Technology of the Bandung Institute of Technology, that applied satellite altimetry on data from the past 29 years showed that the sea surface level on the coast of Pekalongan rose annually by five millimeters. “This means about five centimeters in ten years, about half a meter in 100 years,” he said.

Another research by his team conducted in Pekalongan City in 2018 showed that the soil subsidence in the city reached between 10 to 25 centimeters per year. This, it found, was due to the exploitation of ground water using drilling wells up to a depth of 50-100 meters, by residents in general or by business entities.

“The culprit behind the Rob in Pekalongan City is the massive extraction of ground water,” he said.

Ike (left), whose house, in the background, is now damaged by tidal floods. Since May this year, Ike and family have left their home and at the time of this reporting, were living with relatives. Credit: Isnawati.


This extraction was because there were not enough clean water sources above ground to meet the needs of the people. “Almost 90 percent of the population consume ground water. People need water and ground water provides good quality water. Water on the surface is bad. Rivers are polluted, and there are no other water sources, such as springs,” he said.

In overcoming the tidal floods, the city needed to halt the extraction of ground water so as to prevent further land subsidence. If halting the extraction is not possible because there were not enough water sources to meet the needs of people, the municipal authority could start with not issuing new permits for ground water extraction.

Meanwhile, the central government is currently building an 8,020-meter long flood and tidal floods retaining wall spanning from Pekalongan City up until Pekalongan District. The construction of this retaining wall is expected to be completed by end December 2019.

But Andreas said that a retaining wall should not be a permanent solution, it was a merely a “pain killer” or a temporary means to get rid of the problem. If ground water extraction continued, these walls would also subside.

 “Is the construction of the retaining wall useless? No. But is it the right thing to do? Yes, for this moment. But a retaining wall will only be provisional. The possibility is that it would only be able to overcome the Rob problem for five to ten years only. After that, more must be built,” he said.

He said there were a number of steps to take to overcome tidal floods. First, the city authority should start look for alternative water sources to replace ground water, such as lakes, ponds, rain water, recycled water, river revitalization and waste water treatment plants. The next step is to adjust spatial planning based on the rob flood, land subsidence, the rising sea leel and other related issues.

An artificial recharging system then need to be built to refill the aquifer that is dozen or even hundreds of meters deep. The aquifer is the underground layer that contains water and through which water can flow. The drilling of biopores also needs to be stepped up.

Artificial recharging, he said, will be able to cut down on the rate of subsidence and also reduce the damage to the deep aquifer. Biopores, he said, could help reduce damage to the shallow aquifer and boost water reserves.

Infrastructure for the alternative sources of water to replace ground water also needs to be built, complete with their distribution pipe networks. The last step would be to halt the extraction of deep ground water.” Empirical facts show that halting the extraction of ground water represents a permanent solution in overcoming tidal floods and land subsidence,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Head of the Pekalongan Municipal Development Planning and Regional Development Agency, Anita Heru Kusumorini explained that the city authority had already set a moratorium on ground water extraction. She, however, added that the authority could not yet close down all existing deep ground water wells.

“Pekalongan City does not have surface water. The city-owned clean water company PDAM also relies on ground water to meet the needs for clean water of the people of Pekalongan,” she said.

Data from the Pekalongan City Environment Office showed that there were 400 ground water extraction points in the city and that included those of the government’s Pamsimas scheme.

The city is currently building supporting facilities for the operation of the Petanglong regional clean water provision system that will supply clean water for Pekalongan city and the neighboring districts of Pekalongan and Batang.

This system will have a capacity of 850 liters per second with the raw material coming from the Jambangan river (400 liters per second) and Kaliboyo river (450 liters per seconds). 

Even after the operation of the Petanglong system, city authorities would still not be able to close down all groundwater wells. This is because the rivers that provide the raw water for the system cannot supply water all year round. “There are four months when the rivers are dry. We are still trying to get water from other rivers and for the moment, deep ground water is used as a reserve,” she said. (Isnawati)


This reporting is supported by the Asia-Pacific Health-Related Climate Change Story Grants 2019 program by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network.


Find the location





Finish geocoding


Submit a story

Do you have news to share from the Amazon? Contribute to this map by submitting your story. Help broaden the understanding of the global impact of this important region in the world.

Find location on map

Find location on map