More than just Flooding: Conceptualizing Challenges in Kemijen Using a Systems Approach


Blog by Theresa Dean, University of Hawaii at Manoa Master of Urban and Regional Planning Student

We began our adventure in Semarang by taking a transect walk through our research area – Kemijen. We quickly began to realize that Kemijen was a lively, open and friendly community that graciously welcomed us and offered to share their lives with us. Our goal was to assist in developing actionable steps to address flooding and we used the vulnerability framework as an analytical lens for understanding local challenges. We approached the issue by looking at the community’s exposure to flooding events and the sensitivity of the community affected. We also tried to understand these issues from an individual, household and institutional ability to adapt during and after a flooding event. However, as our analysis went deeper, we began to understand that the problems facing Kemijen are complex and interconnected. Flooding has been the focus of previous interventions and is clearly a major concern for all residents. However, we found that floods are exacerbated by issues of waste management, sanitation, land subsidence, and infrastructure management. After extensive interviews with residents, government agencies, and other stakeholders we determined that flooding was a result of larger interacting processes. To illustrate this point, I wish to describe a common example of flooding impacts.


During a heavy rain event, localized and regional flooding occurs. We heard from Perdikan, a local NGO, that upstream development has caused a process of increased sedimentation and water flow into low lying areas such as Kemijen. As Kemijen floods, we heard from residents that solid waste on the streets and in fish ponds clog the system of drainage canals that run through the neighborhoods. Clogging of the drainage canals cause overflows into streets and homes. This is critical as the drainage canals function not only to drain excess water but also to dispose of liquid waste generated from households and community toilets. Therefore, the quality of the water in the canals is poor and can impact the health of anyone who comes into contact with the water. As the drainage canals overflow into people’s homes, this increases vectors for disease and impacts the health of residents. Perdkian also explained this common phenomenon, which informed us that there is a measurable difference between school and work attendance before and after a flood event. Homeowners also indicated that during and after a flooding event many workers that work as day laborers in the area have to stay home from work in order to address issues such as water damage to property. Since flooding often occurs, the time away from work and school severely impacts the short term and long term economic capabilities of the community. This in turn impacts household abilities to pay for flooding and land subsidence adaptation measures, which include raising their homes or investing in pumps to drain their homes.


This begins a cycle, a chain of events with feedback loops that regularly exposes the community to vulnerabilities. We therefore concluded that flooding interventions should not be developed or implemented in isolation. Part of our recommended action steps is to see issues in Kemijen as a system – a system that can only be addressed using holistic approaches of coordinating existing community efforts with government agency and NGO programming.  By taking a systems approach, we can consider and address a large number of interacting and interconnected problems and relationships.



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