Indonesian teacher Sulkan came out with photos of his small mosque surrounded by the sea, remembering a marching band and smiling children graduating from his kindergarten, standing on a street now submerged in dark, green water.
That’s just one of many landmarks in the Javan coastal village of Timbulsloko that have been swallowed up by rising waters, forcing residents to adjust to a new life in the water.
More than 200 people remain aboard one of Indonesia’s fastest-growing sinkholes, which have turned from a landscape of lush rice paddies into a network of boardwalks and boats in an alarming sign of how climate change can upend coastal communities everywhere.
“These are just memories now … there are no such activities,” said 49-year-old Sulkan, who like many Indonesians has a single name.
“Why? Because the area is already flooded.”
The lives of the residents of Timbulsloko have been drastically changed by rising sea levels, coastal erosion and excessive groundwater extraction that has made the land sink.
The coastline was also left vulnerable to flooding after locals cut down mangroves for fishing ponds in the 1990s.
The water has reached five kilometers (three miles) inland around Timbulsloko and the surrounding region of Demak, according to Denny Nugroho Sugianto, a professor at Diponegoro University.
He called it a “slow catastrophe” happening before the eyes of the world, with data showing some areas around Timbulsloko sinking up to 20 centimeters per year, double the rate recorded in 2010.
“This is the largest rate of land subsidence” recorded in the area, he said.
Large parts of the megalopolis capital Jakarta are expected to be submerged by 2050 for the same reasons, researchers say, but villagers on the Javan coast are on the front lines of the emergency.
Sulkan was forced to move his kindergarten from the old wooden building next to his house to another structure on higher ground to prevent it from disappearing.
Residents raised the floors of their homes by adding soil and then installing wooden decks to stay dry as the floods got worse.
This leaves them with reduced space, forcing anyone who enters to bend over to avoid bumping their heads.
Sularso, 54, said he has raised his floor three times since 2018, a total of 1.5 meters, spending about 22 million rupiah ($1,460).
“For me, there is no future,” the fisherman told AFP.
“This village… will disappear in less than five years. We can’t build, we can’t do anything.”
He said his floor would be submerged in water during high tide, causing him to worry that the high waves could collapse his house.
Housewife Khoiriyah, 42, said she had difficulty buying groceries or taking her three children to school because of the flooded roads.
“Life is more difficult now. Every time the water comes inside my house, I always want to move,” he said.
Yet the problem is likely to get worse as climate change continues.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that an increase of two degrees Celsius from pre-industrial times could raise sea levels by 43 centimeters in the next century.
Resurrection of the dead
Not only living things are protected from rising seas.
The village cemetery was raised to prevent it from sinking, where the villagers put up a wooden fence, netting and tires to keep the water out.
Residents also crowdfunded a boardwalk to connect their homes and give them access to the graves of their loved ones.
Timbulsloko’s younger generation often spends their time outside their home, escaping the floods that disturb their daily lives.
“Life is monotonous here. Young people often go out because they don’t want to be at home,” said 24-year-old Choirul Tamimi.
Before the use of boats in the village, Tamimi said, he would pass through the flood on his way to work with a change of clothes.
“When I come home from work, it’s annoying because I’m not only tired, but I’m also wet,” he said.
Sugianto called on the government to expand piped water access to residents in order to reduce the use of groundwater, and to look at sand filling to replace the damaged ones.
“If we don’t restore the original beach, we won’t be able to solve this problem sustainably,” said the professor.
But those who remained in Timbulsloko refused to surrender to the elements.
Sulkan insists that he will stay to keep his kindergarten open and teach children like those who once stood on the road that has now been swallowed up.
“As long as there are neighbors, there are still houses, I will stay here,” he said.
© 2023 AFP
Citation: ‘Slow disaster’: Indonesians in sunken village forced to adapt (2023, July 24) retrieved 24 July 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-07-disaster-indonesians-village.html
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