Climate migration: Floods displace villagers in Indonesia
By DITA ALANGKARA and VICTORIA MILKO
MONDOLIKO, Indonesia (AP) — All crops had died and farmed fish had escaped from their ponds. The only road to the village was flooded and the water kept rising, said Asiyah, 38, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.
She knew she had to leave her home on the north coast of Java, just as many other villagers had done months earlier. So about two years ago, after months of agonizing over the decision, she told her husband it was time to move on and started packing.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of an ongoing series exploring the lives of people around the world who have been forced to move due to rising seas, drought, scorching temperatures and more. caused or exacerbated by climate change.
Java, home to some 145 million people and the Indonesian capital Jakarta, is the most populous island in the world. Scientists say parts of the island will be entirely lost to the sea in the coming years.
Much has been written about the sinking capital, which is displaced in part due to destructive flooding. Other parts of the country with persistent flooding have received less attention.
Some 300 miles (500 kilometers) from Jakarta, entire villages along the Java Sea are submerged in murky brown water. Experts say rising seas and higher tides due to climate change are some of the causes. Progressive land subsidence and development are also to blame.
Mondoliko, where Asiyah is from, is one such village.
Asiyah smiles as she describes what Mondoliko looked like when she was young: lush green rice paddies, tall coconut trees and bushes of red chili peppers grew around the approximately 200 houses people lived in. She and other children were playing at the local soccer field, watching the snakes. glide through the grass while butterflies fly through the air.
“Everyone had land,” she says. “We were all able to grow and have what we needed.”
But about 10 years ago the water came – sporadically and a few centimeters high at first. In a few years, he has become a constant presence. Unable to grow in salt water, crops and plants all died. Without land as the water rose, insects and animals died out.
Asiyah says she and other villagers adapted as best they could: farmers traded their crops for fish ponds; people used earth or concrete to raise the floors of their homes above the water. Mesh fencing was placed in the yards to catch any litter that the tide would bring.
For seven years, Asiyah, her husband Aslori, 42, and their two children have lived with the floods, with the water rising every year. But they also noticed changes: neighbors were leaving their homes in search of drier land. The call to prayer at the village mosque fell silent. Even new fish ponds became futile, the water rising so high that fish jumped over the nets.
She remembers the day she decided they had to leave her house forever. Her father, who lived with them, was battling bone cancer and prostate problems, and some days he was so frail he couldn’t stand. Her son was growing up and facing an increasingly difficult and waterlogged journey to school over 2 miles (about 3 kilometers).
“I was worried when the road flooded – how can we go about our daily lives?” she remembers wondering. “Children cannot go to school or play with their friends. … We can’t live like this.
With the flood waters rising, she told her husband it was time to leave.
Early one morning in the pouring rain, Asiyah and Aslori loaded what they could onto their boat: photos of their wedding and family, documents and a large plastic bowl full of cooking utensils. She left her home one last time, making the 3-mile (almost 5 kilometer) trip to Semarang, where she had found an empty concrete one-bedroom apartment to rent.
The first night in their new apartment, Asiyah slept on the floor, trying to calm her distraught son.
“I tried to make them understand that there was no other option. We can’t work and they can’t go to school if we stay in Mondoliko,” she says. “It’s uninhabitable.”
Asiyah confesses that while she was comforting him, she also wanted to go home. But even if she had wanted to return, it would have been impossible: the village road was flooded.
Others from Mondoliko have since abandoned their homes. When The Associated Press visited the village in November 2021, 11 homes were still occupied. In July 2022, that number dropped to five, as the village continues to be swallowed up by the sea.
Asiyah and her fellow villagers are just a few of the few 143 million people likely to be uprooted by rising seas, drought, scorching temperatures and other climate disasters over the next 30 yearsaccording to the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published this year.
Some villagers in the area still live in their flooded houses.
At Timbulsloko, about 2 miles (about 3 kilometers) from the village of Asiyah, houses have been fortified with raised floors and dirt walkways, forcing people to squat when passing through shortened doorways. Some villagers have received help from the local government, but many still don’t have a dry place to sleep, fearing that a high tide in the middle of the night could sweep them out to sea.
Adjusting to her new home has been an ongoing process, Asiyah says. Aslori still works as a fisherman near their home and brings back all the waterlogged objects he can.
(AP Video/Victoria Milko and Dita Alangkara)
In early September, a day when the tide was particularly low, Asiyah returned to the old house for the first time since leaving. Months earlier, she had cried when she saw a picture of her house on a neighborhood chat group, with the bridge that once led to the house completely washed away.
But while she was in the house, she calmly sorted through old school books, repeating her son’s name over and over while carefully selecting items like water bottles and a rusty gas canister to take back to his new home.
Aware that the tide would soon rise and they were in danger of running aground, Asiyah, Aslori and the other former Mondoliko villagers who had come to collect items began the journey back to drier lands.
“I miss my home,” she says. “I never imagined it would become an ocean.”
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