Thinking about river in Indonesia, I cannot resist but to think about the floods that often happen in a number of Indonesia’s river basin areas. One of the most frequently flooded is Bengawan Solo in Java, with its worst flood since 1966 happened just four years ago. The flood costed the government US$ 221.5 million for the damage it had caused.
Bengawan Solo is the longest river in Java, flowing as far as 600 kilometres from Solo in Central Java through Ngawi, Cepu, Bojonegoro and Lamongan, to Gresik in East Java. It used to be an economic artery of Java, as depicted in the famous song Bengawan Solo, written and composed by Gesang Martohartono in 1940. Now roads connecting those towns have become the new economic artery of the middle part of Java.
People tend to move farther away from the river, as it has only become source of flood and its banks are prone to landslide. Global warming and climate change have resulted in the increasing occurence of rainfall irregularities and extreme rainfalls over Java, which are the main cause of floods in the island. In Bengawan Solo, most of the people who still live near the river are typically poor and/or not originally from the region.
Travelling along Bengawan Solo, I saw how people adapt to the flooding that happens annually. In the towns I visited, houses near the river built after 1980s were heightened, though many were not. In Bojonegoro I encountered a pier that has two platforms, one is used in normal condition, while the other is heightened in preparation of flooding.
In Ngawi I met people whose houses were submerged in the 2007 flood event. In Cepu I saw how the riverbank had been turned into a dump site. In Solo I came across houses by the river that had just been evicted in order to make way to construct new leeve. In Sukoharjo I bumped into a tributary of the Bengawan Solo which became bluish, as batik factories in nearby Solo city disposed dye waste into it.
During my travel along the river of love, I always asked people what they would do if the flood came. They simply answered, then they would evacuate and would return as soon as the water recedes. Then life would go on as normal. It has always been like that, they added. And it seems that it will still be like that.
Text and photographs by Budi N.D. Dharmawan © 2011–2012