Data. Maps. Storytelling.

The Sinking of Bedono

November 03, 2010

HIS vest bears an inkblot stain on its pocket. Yet every time he leaves the house for his round, Head of Bedono Village Mualipin never forget to put the tainted vest on top of his official uniform. This vest means something – it sends an important message.

That afternoon, we stand at the end of a damaged bridge which cut the access that connect to the village hall of Bedono, Sayung Sub District, Demak District, Central Java, and the other two villages in north east side. Here, the tainted vest shows its importance.

“Where should I sign?” Mualipin says to someone who is getting off from his motorbike. That someone hands a transparent folder. Inside, there is a memo.


After a moment, the head of village reaches for red-handled official seal inside his vest’s pocket. His right hand carefully positions the seal cap on the right place while his left palm flattens and secures the paper on top of the motorbike’s back seat.

Voila! In seconds, administrative paper work used to be done in the village hall is now completed. Throughout the afternoon in the end of October, the same scene repeats three times. Mualipin conducts his official function on the street side.

He cuts through Bedono’s bureaucracy red tapes by bringing the seal along with him. With the help of his tainted vest, in which he puts his official seal on its pocket, he delivers his official duty Why? Here is his story.

Bedono village expands around 552 hectares. It used to be 750 hectares. Yet erosion cuts down the coastlines for more than one kilometer. The pole marking the village’s tax zone is now under seawater.

“The street from Morosari Kampong (where the village hall is located) to Timbulsloko Kampong which lies in line with the coastlines is also drowned. Two kilometer stretch of that street is gone because of the tide,” Bedono Village Secretary Aslor explains.


Carik, as he is affectionately called, takes me for a motor ride along what is left from this two meters high concrete street of Morosari Kampong. Right on the edge of the bridge, he turns off his motor engine.

For a couple of seconds, I am overwhelmed by the powerful waves of seawater through a crack Carik calls a bridge. What used to be a bridge now looks like a damaged river dam.

The street was indeed a dam. It was built along the coastal line to provide tenminute access to Java’s North coast road to residences of Mondoliko and Bedono Kampongs through the village hall. This dam also functions to block the salted water from pouring into the rice fields behind.

Yet the dam/street is now damaged by the strong waves. Its construction is far too weak to stand against the sea waves and the rising sea level in Java’s North coast road. When elementary students arrived to this part of the street on their way to school, they had to ask their parents to carry them across, because the water was too high for them.

Now, even when the tide is low, the water reaches one-meter height in a number of points. Residents of Mondoliko and Bedono Kampong now no longer have their short cuts. Their children even have to move to another school. “This creates troubles for the residences who wish to do paper works at the village hall. They have to take North coast road for three kilometers, then travel for another seven kilometers to here,” says Carik.


All rice fields are turned into milkfish ponds. Still they cannot stand against the water. Once the dam is completely drowned, the water carries the milkfish all away.

Some put on some kind of net around the ponds. The next problem is on maintenance. To ensure no milkfish slips away through the net, they have to inspect the net on daily basis. “Just a small tear and the fish swim away. Crabs also create problems as they create holes on the net,” says Carik.

Bedono Village witnesses the disappearance of fishponds. Based on Carik’s note, half of the village’s rice field has been transformed into fishponds. What remains for residential areas is only 50-75 hectares.

“In total, around 300 hectares of fish ponds are now under water. On the east side, ponds are protected with net yet nobody maintains them. Basically, there is no functioning fishpond here. Heck, even houses are all drowned now.”

The Drowned Senik and Tambaksari

In the afternoon, Bedono sky is full of storks. The birds fly above the colony of mangrove on the seaside. I quickly grab my camera to take pictures of the storks. Carik says that Senik Kampong used to stand on the place where the storks now stand.

Senik drowned in 2007, following the sinking of Tambaksari Kampong between 1999-2000. Out of Bedono’s seven kampongs, two of them are now underwater. The residences are relocated to another kampong under the same district.

Up until this year, there are five families from a total of 67 families who insist on staying in the sinking Tambaksari Kampong. In Senik Kampong, seven out of a total of 208 families also choose to stay put in the stage houses built by Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

To reach Senik, we use a boat to go out of the mouth of Sayung River, through a flock of storks that are looking for small fish to be eaten. I see a number of plastic pipes sticking from the seabed. These are remains of the damaged wave breakers.

On the North Sea side, the sacred tomb of Mudzakir seems to be afloat in the middle of the sea. Our boat swings nearby the tomb, away from the sea and through the mangrove. We are soon lost in it.

Inside this mangrove forest, the body of the boat has to wiggle its way through the overlapping roots. Our boat has to take several U-turns to break free from the forest. Finally our boat arrives to what seems to be a former river and concrete road of Senik Kampong. Electricity poles stand slanted in the middle of the water pond.

Our boat approaches the middle of the residential area that now resembles Roman ruins. In the sinking kampong, we met Maulani, 45 years old.


Living in Bedono Style

“I would like to ask for permission to block the dam for the upcoming circumcision ceremony,” asks Maulani. This all-around manual labor with Rp 20 thousand per day income welcomes the arrival of Mualipin. From behind the ventilation, pairs of eyes peep at us.

“What kind of house it this?” I ask. Pasijah, 40 years old, wife of Maulani responds. She appears from the door. Her cheeks were sharp and pointy. “Well, it is as is!” she laughs.

Pasijah and her two children sit in the dark throughout the afternoon on some kind of stage foundation, which takes up half of the house. Maulani today is busy scratching his head, he tries to find ways to block the damaged dam in front of his house.

This husband and wife have sent invitations to their families all over the district. Their son, Khoirun, 12 years old, is about to be circumcised. At the same time, their first son, Ikhwanudin, 22 years old, a fisherman, is getting married.

Maulani thinks that if he managed to block the broken dam/bridge with bamboos, at least his guests would be able to come across to their house. This family is one of seven families from Senik Kampong who decline the relocation offer. Because their assets are drowned, the head of this sub-district waived their taxes.

Maulani used to be a successful second-crops farmer. He had his own 3 hectares of land. He was born in Senik and has been living in his house for 25 years.

He is well aware of the rising tide. “The last five years are the worse. My field is completely drown,” he says in thick Javanese accent.

As the water rises, he changes from being a farmer to a fisherman. “That’s okay, I’ll stay here. I just imagine that we live in Kalimantan – living afloat on houseboats.”

Maulani is not alone. One week in Bedono, I meet other families who try to remain afloat in the sea of poverty in the sinking kampong.

At the end of Bedono Kampong, two kilometers from Senik Kampong, on the next day, we meet Kasmadi. He chooses to stay because he has no money to move the poles of his house to the new location. For the last four years, this 65 years old man no longer works on now under water his fishponds. He relies on the money sent home by his son, a construction worker who works in Jakarta.

Kasmadi is not as well adjusted as Maulani who changes his way from farming to fisheries. His wife, 50 years old Sukati, does not even know how to swim. Three o’ clock in the morning the seawater rises. For the last 30 years, he deals with it by reassemble his bamboo house on the higher ground. He has done this three times already, each activity costs him half a million rupiahs.

On the last move in 2000, his house was on the top of the previous embankment, hidden behind the shrubs of the mangrove and circled by the water. What left is a narrow path connecting his house with the rest of his neighbors in Bedono Kampong.

“A couple of days ago, strong winds blew all roof tile,” he says. According to Kasmadi, in the last couple of months, strong sea wind often blows. “I ran as fast as I could, I was afraid that some of those roof tile would fall on top of my head,” he says, shivered as he remembers the experience.

He could not ask his neighbors for help. He didn’t have any. Has he had enough? Yes, indeed. If he only had the money, Kasmadi would instantly leave the premise. “The coming waves scare the hell out of me. My 4.5 hectare fishpond is now under sea water.”

He has taken some measures to ensure the safety of his family. His daughter now lives with their relatives. This man who experienced elementary education during Dutch and Japanese colonial came from the city of Demak. He was tempted by Bedono’s promise for a better life, because in the 1970s this was the best agriculture site for rice and second crops. At that time, the north coastal area was famous for its fertile grounds.

Just like his brothers, Kasmadi choose to be a milkfish farmer in Bedono Kampong. “I was so happy, this area had rich potentials,” he says, his smile shows few teeth left on his gum.

Never on his mind he would find himself facing this kind of life in his old age. For a moment, Kasmadi is distracted. He suddenly remembers Haji Ali and eager to know what happens to his children? Before Haji Ali died, he was the richest milkfish farmer in the area as he owned more than 20 hectares of land. As the second generation of his family rose, his fortune was all drown by the sea. He inherited nothing to his children.

Erosion and Climate Change

Seawater wipes everything in Bedono. Yet the people are used to this kind of life. Director of Coast and Marine Affairs, Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Subandono Diposaptono, came to this area for the first time seven years ago. He has predicted this.

He says that global temperature increase causes 1 milimeter rise of seawater per year this decade. In Indonesia, particularly in Semarang which is on the same geographical area as Bedono, seawater rises up relatively to 9.27 milimeter per year, according to the National Coordinating Agency for Mapping and Survey.

It is a relative number because climate change is not the only cause. It overlaps with other problems such as abrasion and landslide due to low land density.

Abrasion is a very serious problem, because erosion now reaches 547,49 hectare in Semarang-Demak border(see graph). This is caused by long shore sediment transport. “It is triggered by the reclamation of Tanjung Mas Port in Semarang, which is carried out in oblivion to Bedono.”

The extended port has lower and even stopped sediment supplies to Bedono coastal area in its dynamic cycle. Central Java coast risk analysis study shows the scenario of Bedono ecosystem extinction threat. Using geomorphology, erosion, beach slope, the average wave height and estimation of tide, Bedono Village is the most vulnerable area in Central Java (see graph). “It is even the most vulnerable throughout Java North coast road,” he confirms.

Climate change exposes Bedono to a more massive threat. The average monthly temperature in this area rises for 1.4 degree per 100 years.

“When the temperature rises, heat transfer from the air to seawater is triggered. This flow of heat associates with seawater level due to expansion.”

A permanent solution for Bedono is mangrove belt. The radical solution, according to Subandono, is an improvement on the overall layout of the area with careful consideration on vulnerability to climate change.

The last one is a long reach. Even though this maritime country is prone to seawater increase caused by global warming, Indonesia is far behind in mapping its own disaster risks.

Is the government aware of the problem? In the city of Semarang, I meet with the Governor, Bibit Waluyo. For Bedono and its rising tide, he has no trick under his sleeves. “Don’t ask me for solution. The problem comes from the sea. Can anyone control the sea?” he answers, placing the scapegoat on the nature.

Half an hour before, he explains the importance of boosting the productivity of agriculture and milkfish ponds. For the sinking Bedono, he offers a rather obsolete answer. “No problem, just wait until the water subside.”

Bibit declines to explore the matters thoroughly. Politics has determined the unfortunate fate of Bedono. Is Central Java ready for climate change? “Of course, it is God’s will. We are ready with a number of technical assistance, from reinforcing irrigation, building dams, choosing the best seeds and selecting the best fertilizers. But when it is the rise of the seawater, well, don’t ask me for answer. Ask God.” CLARA RONDONUWU

Screen Shot 2014-01-25 at 9.26.21 PM


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