Neglecting climate change impacts, Govt fails to address coastal residents’ mobility

The surrounding of Pasijah’s house in Dukuh Bedono, Bedono Village, Sayung Subdistrict, Demak Regency has turned into the sea due to abrasion. (Photo: Hartatik)

by: Hartatik

Semarang – Morning to noon is the busiest time for Pasijah (49). Using a rowing boat, the resident of Rejosari Senik Hamlet, Bedono Village, Sayung Subdistrict, Demak Regency has to pick up her two children who are still attending madrasah.

Meanwhile, her husband Rokani (55) was fishing at sea. The mobility of this mother of four children can only be done by boat. To get to the Pantura highway, the access from her house is no longer a concrete road as it was a dozen years ago, but has now turned into the sea.

“Rejosari Senik used to be a fertile rice field. Around 2007, the tidal floods began to rise and a year later the rice fields were replaced by ponds,” said Pasijah, when met at her house, which is flooded up to an adult’s knee every day.

Back in the 1970s, Rejosari Senik hamlet was only about 7 kilometres from the shoreline. The condition of the hamlet changed drastically after being hit by abrasion. It was completely cut off from the mainland. And now the surrounding area is a mangrove forest, integrated with a mangrove conservation park.

Even the ferocity of abrasion is still visible today. This can be seen from the 15-metre x 7-metre semi-staged house inhabited by Pasijah’s family. Once the door is opened, the view of the house’s terrace turns into a swamp. On either side is a dense mangrove forest.

Surrounding the house has turned into the sea, so the only access is by boat. Meanwhile, a number of houses and places of worship there have been abandoned by the residents since 2006, because they were submerged by abrasion. At least 206 families once lived in the hamlet. Now the buildings look empty and damaged. Many of the buildings are buried under the mangrove forest. At least 273 plots of land owned by residents in three villages on the coast of Sayung, Demak, were lost due to abrasion.

Meanwhile, hundreds of residents in the hamlet chose to leave their homes and move to other villages. Only Pasijah’s family remained. Pasijah said that the reason why she stayed was solely due to economic factors.

“We have no money for moving and build a new house,” he said.

Despite their endurance, Pasijah’s family could not stand by and watch as abrasion submerged their house. In a year, they raised their house up to three times. Of course, a lot of money has to be set aside.

“I spent Rp 1.5 million to buy bamboo materials, not to mention other building materials,” explained Pasijah.

Dissipating dreams

The same thing happened in Simonet Hamlet, Wonokerto Kulon Village, Pekalongan Regency. From the original 67 families (265 people), now only seven families still survive. The increasingly severe rob and abrasion made residents choose to move starting in 2019.

Tidal floods inundated buildings in the hamlet that was once famous for its jasmine production. The coastline that used to be 1km away from the residents’ houses has eroded. Now, their houses are right on the shoreline.

The tidal floods and abrasion that occurred again in 2020 and 2021 forced residents to bury their dreams of returning home. Currently, many residents of Simonet Hamlet have scattered to various areas because their village is sinking. Although the hamlet is threatened to ‘disappear’ from the map, there is no clarity about the relocation programme from the government.

Muhammad Soufi Cahya Gemilang Research Officer, Resilience Development Initiative (RDI) assesses that the risk of this growing wave of migration is not directly proportional to adequate policies and programmes.

“I found that the issue of migration is not included in the policies and regulations in Indonesia. This lack of regulation ultimately has an impact on efforts to deal with migration in the field and the rights of the community are not fulfilled,” explained Muhammad recently.

Furthermore, according to him, the mobility of citizens due to climate change is still not present in the policy framework in both the National Action Plan – Climate Change Adaptation (RAN-API) and the National Roadmap for Climate Change Adaptation (NDC Roadmap), which were published in 2014 and 2016 respectively. Whereas the RAN-API document serves to detail strategies and intervention steps against climate change impacts from various sectors. Meanwhile, the NDC Roadmap is a reference document for targets and strategies for implementing climate change adaptation.

“As mentioned in the report of the researchers who reviewed the RAN-API, the document still focuses on the technical and physical dimensions (such as infrastructure) of climate change adaptation,” he said.

Climate migration

The issue of climate migration has also not been widely discussed in scientific discussions in Indonesia. There is only one study on this phenomenon, in Lombok, and one study that attempted to study climate migration patterns in Indonesia. The second study itself still uses data on natural disaster refugees from the Internally Displaced Monitoring Centre (IDMC) which does not specifically distinguish the type of disaster that causes relocation.

So what is the impact? Muhammad said that there are three impacts due to the absence of community displacement in government policies. First, the approach used in climate change adaptation policies is still localised. The majority of strategies in the two policies still emphasise forms of adaptation that protect settlements. Policies do not focus on residents who are affected and displaced.

“We can look at central government programmes such as the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development Project in Jakarta and the National Strategic Project Semarang-Demak Sea Toll and Embankment. Both are examples of projects that aim to protect settlements.”

Local government projects are no different. A study by the research institute for sustainable development, BlueUrban (unpublished), in 2023 in Pekalongan Regency and City showed that local government initiatives were still limited to building sea walls for areas affected by tidal flooding. A similar strategy was also implemented by the government of Indramayu, West Java, to address tidal flooding in the Kandanghaur area.

Second, the absence of a focus on climate migration results in the absence of a systematic plan to compensate people affected by climate change. A systematic plan is important so that people can be sure of compensation if their living space is lost.

In Pekalongan, the procurement of relocation land for Simonet Hamlet residents in the Teratebang area has yet to make any progress. Meanwhile, in Demak, the relocation of residents affected by abrasion is still limited to one hamlet, not yet reaching residents of other hamlets.

Thirdly, there has been no move towards community empowerment. This empowerment effort is very important. Climate migration has the potential to create new vulnerabilities as people are forced to leave their sources of livelihood.

BlueUrban’s research in Pekalongan found that Simonet residents are losing access to livelihoods, mostly as jasmine farmers or estuary fishermen, as their villages sink. In addition to the loss of livelihoods, sea level rise has also made the land of a number of residents disappear. Unfortunately, Presidential Regulation No. 52 of 2022 only regulates compensation of around 25 per cent of the Tax Object Sale Value (NJOP). In Demak, this amount of compensation has drawn protests from many residents because the amount is considered too small.

The government needs to include aspects of community displacement in climate change adaptation policies. Migration should be part of the community’s adaptation efforts to landscape shifts due to climate change.

Status recognition

The government can take several steps to deal with climate migration. First, recognise the “refugee” status of climate migrants, whether they migrate due to shocks or stresses. This is because the two are different. Shock migration occurs quickly as a response to a disaster (often called “refugees”).

Meanwhile, stress-induced displacement arises slowly due to a factor that directly or indirectly threatens one’s life (e.g. loss of livelihood).

Formally, climate migrants who move slowly are often not seen in the same light as those who move due to rapid disasters (shocks). In fact, it is not easy to call the migration of a person or community due to shocks or stresses. “Moving” is a complex decision.

This phenomenon was also seen in the BlueUrban team’s study in Pekalongan. The severe disaster that occurred in late 2019 did force many residents in Simonet Hamlet to immediately move. However, many residents of Api-Api Village, located next to Simonet, also migrated out, driven by the loss of income due to abrasion.

To address this complexity, Indonesia can follow Argentina’s example. The country announced a commitment to facilitate the orderly, safe and mass migration of its citizens affected by climate change. They also provide social protection for both domestic and international “climate migrants” who are not yet recognised as refugees by international law. Second, governments can incorporate climate migration into their National Adaptation Plans and Long-Term Development Plans. The governments of Togo and Ghana have taken this step by making climate migration one of their adaptation priorities. The inclusion of migration in national adaptation plans has enabled them to provide adequate resources to formulate protection measures, systematic relocation and empowerment programmes for migrants.

Third, strengthening the capacity of local governments to respond to climate migration. Capacity building should be directed towards the process of analysing problems on the ground and developing solutions that are not localised (e.g. only in one hamlet).

Ultimately, local governments are the key stakeholders in addressing this aspect. This is because they know the long-term needs and resources that can be mobilised in their respective regions to deal with climate migration.


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