Practicing Vulnerability Assessments in the Field: Community-Level Adaptation to Disasters in Southern Bandung

Guest post from Martin Drenth

For a week I have participated in the Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction training at the Institute of Technology Bandung. On Thursday 11 August we went on a field trip to the area of Dayeuhkolot and Baleenda in the south of Bandung.

This part of Bandung is most vulnerable in the face of flooding because in all of Bandung flooding is worst here and on top of that the area is inhabited by people from low social class with limited financial means. They generally live in this area because it is cheap, close to their work, and because they don’t have the money to move to a safer yet more expensive location.

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Flooding in this area is a complex problem which happens more and more frequently. In 2016 the area has been flooded 4 times including a 2 months non-stop period. Flooding has a variety of causes which include geographical location (low lying area in a location where three large rivers converge); upstream land use changes (forest areas are burnt down and substituted by housing and farming without proper control from the government); trash (which is either thrown in the river or flows towards this area from other parts of Bandung); and sedimentation of the rivers.

The area experiences regular flooding with 80 to 300 cm inundation which forces nearly 6.000 families to evacuate. Based on interviews with the community, people in this area experience many negative effects of regular flooding of their neighborhood, such as health problems, lack of access to education and loss of livelihood because flooding prevents them from reaching their workplace.

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People in this area generally feel they lack support from local government to deal with the direct effects from flooding as well as efforts to stop flooding from happening. Therefore the community tries to deal with their problems best they can. The field trip showed many examples of adaptation undertaken by the community.

No trash is collected in the area, to prevent this from being burned close to their houses, the head of the RT (neighborhood ward) has placed a trash incinerator outside the residential area and has arranged for trash to be collected for a voluntary fee of whatever the residents can spend. This should also prevent the dumping of trash in the river. To further stop this behavior, people are fined when they get caught dumping their trash. However, a change in mentality is still needed because many people go out at night to throw their trash in the river when no one is watching.

The people in the community do what they can to prevent damage to their houses. They do this by raising the foundation of their houses. Often they use the mud that was carried by the river (from upstream due to deforestation and land use change). Many others who have the means for a two story house move to the second floor and leave their first floor altogether. Less fortunate people regularly build a makeshift attic in their one-story house, which is dangerous when the water rises higher than anticipated and they cannot escape their house through the roof. When you look in their houses you can see that many people have plastic or metal furniture that can withstand water. It is also common that valuable items are stored high up and are not even taken down when the house is not flooded.

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One of the residents that we interviewed had a special way of dealing with the specific characteristics of flooding in this area, namely with flood water filled with trash and mud sediments. He knows he cannot stop water from flooding his house but to make cleaning up more easy he build a stone wall of about 1,5 meters high around his house. In case of flooding he closes off the open spots in his wall with triplex. This keeps his house clean from mud and trash, as long as the water doesn’t flow over his wall.

The river used to have an early warning system which would set off an alarm when the water in the river would reach a critical level. Unfortunately, this machine ‘has disappeared’ and no one knows what happened to it. To still have an opportunity to save their valuable possessions and to evacuate, local residents have created their own early warning system: they have a network of friends and other people who care about their problems from other parts of Bandung who will let them know through Whatsapp or certain Facebook groups about heavy rainfall or flooding in their respective area. One respondent told us that he knows that heavy rain or flooding in a certain area of Bandung will automatically lead to flooding in his neighborhood 3 hours later. This gives him a little time to prepare for the flood. He also told us that the first thing he saves is his phone so at least he can still ensure communication.

Finally, the community does not only prepare for the negative consequences of flooding but also tries to reap the benefits of it. In this poor area with few economic opportunities, people collect trash from the river which they can recycle and sell. During the field trip, we could see some people wading through the river (which is shallow due to sedimentation) to look for useful trash. Others opt for a more relaxed approach by building a bench on top of the dam from which they fish for trash using nets attached to long sticks.

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