On the Road to Kampung Kali Merah

August 5, 2017

Blog post by Dr. Karl Kim, Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa and Director at the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center

A diverse team including representatives of the local disaster agency, NGOs, and a group of nurses headed to Kampung Kali Merah which is approximately 25 KM west of Manokwari (as a bird flies) but considerably further because of the lack of roads.  The drive to Kali Merah took about two hours.  We took the southern route, even though it was longer, it was faster because of construction and other delays on the northern route.

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The drive south took us past the airport and along a coastal roadway passing a massive concrete factory, complete with worker housing.

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The plant appears to be quite new and rather modern.  It is a massive facility, quite different from other structures in the region.  Built by the Chinese, it is located on the coast to provide access to barges and shipping routes.  Equally impressive were the dormitory facilities provided for workers.

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We also passed vast palm oil plantations.  There were both old growth forests which have been planted decades ago as well as newer forests with younger, productive trees.

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We saw trucks laden with palm fruits to be processed into palm oil which is used in cosmetics, toothpaste, food products and as a biofuel.  Indonesia is now the worlds largest producer of palm oil. There is much projected growth of palm oil production in Papua.  While it provides jobs and income to the region, the impacts of mono-cropping on the environment and on local communities have been significant.  In addition to concerns about excessive water use and the destruction of forest areas, there are also significant social problems associated with palm oil production.

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Upon arriving in Kampung Kali Merah, we were escorted to a rapidly eroding bank which has been the site of numerous floods.  The villagers described how the course of the river has changed and demonstrated for us both the depth and speed of the water flowing.  We were also told that there are many crocodiles in the river.  One of our hosts waded into the waters to show us both current conditions as well as the changes that occur during flood season.

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There is no formal early warning system.  The villagers start monitoring the river when they see ominous dark clouds form against the mountains.  They send people further upstream to monitor rising water levels and also send men with flashlights to watch the river at night. The river can flood several times a year so that are familiar with the conditions.  They report that there were no fatalities.  The “victims” include their livestock (cattle, goats, pigs, chickens) as well as agricultural products.  Also, villagers report losing household possessions and motorbikes.  One villager reported that it floods so often that they don’t purchase goods such as sofas because they’ll get destroyed by the flood waters.  With they have built traditional elevated structures, the villagers hope that the government will construct a dam to prevent the flooding.

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Following the visit to the river bank, the team went into Kampung Kali Merah for meetings with villagers.  In addition to describing the hazards and mapping the riverbank and the location of assets, the members of the community described various coping and adaptation strategies including where they evacuate to and also how the community works together to rebuild after flooding.  They noted that while they might be willing to move, they do not have the resources to purchase new land.  They are concerned that if they are relocated to new, safer land, they may not have the capacity to grow food or develop enterprises.

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More assessment of the flood risk and the potential for alternative risk reduction strategies is needed.  The potential for green infrastructure and the development of greater retention and detention areas as well as the continued use of elevated, stilt homes and structures might also be evaluated.  Some of the longer term challenges associated with new infrastructure investment (such as dam or levee construction) needs to be considered alongside other community improvements.  Larger on-going concerns relate to livelihoods and economic opportunities as well as continued improvements in health, education, and social welfare.

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