Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Poor Are Dying to Make the Rich Richer

And here we go again! It is January 2014, but somehow it all feels like last year, or the year before last… or ten years ago. Jakarta is under water; people are trying to save all they can, but their houses are being ruined… some men, women and children are dying… Tens of thousands are sick, suffering from typhoid, and diarrhea.

As I plunged into flooded areas, my friend, a medical expert from Yogyakarta, sent me a text message: “Please be careful in Jakarta… Leptospirosis, typhoid and other infectious diseases…”

Dozens had already died in the capital city alone, or at least this is what was reported in the local media. As always, we will never know the real numbers. As always, they are much higher.

This year they erected many more posko’s in Jakarta than in 2013. A posko is basically a post, often put together during natural disasters, in theory in order to provide help, to distribute water and food, or to give shelter. In the neighborhood of Kampung Melayu, there are dozens of posko’s: even the notoriously brutal Special Forces – Koppasus – are managing one, and the police have another just next to it. The Muslim NGO has one, too. Each post has a self-promoting logo. But inside, it is all empty; the police and soldiers playing games, eating or sleeping. Inside the shelter, there are only a few women and a couple of kids. Rubber boats are having a dry run; they are being inflated and deflated, while other rescue vessels are resting against the wall. Cranes, ambulances, boats; many of them are totally idle.

flooded Kampung Melayu

Kampung Melayu flooded.

“This year’s floods are worse than those from the last year”, explains a police officer, called Nurasid. Inside the shelter, the daughter of a neighborhood chief says she had been here for six days already: “This time the water was two meters high, as I measured it inside our house. I have no idea why.” Good question, as this administration was actually elected mainly because it promised to ease the almost total traffic gridlock, and to prevent devastating floods in the capital.

A few minutes’ drive, and under a flyover, dozens of people are living in the open, surrounded by bundles of belongings, by their children, and even by several domestic animals. One of displaced people, Mr. Ilyas, recalls: “We went to ‘At Tahiriyah Mosque’, but they were overstretched. We couldn’t enter other mosques – they just refused to let us in. They said that if we entered, it would be considered najis and kotor, meaning unclean, filthy. We had no idea why they felt that way… There are two hundred of us now, under this bridge. There is a police kitchen nearby, but they are cooking for themselves, not for us.”

The river is running wild and the houses along its banks are clearly cut off from the rest of the world. The locals, those who are dry, are having a day out, together with their children, looking at those who are not as fortunate.

Boredom in Indonesian cities is legendary, and every misfortune or disaster draws large crowds. There is not even the slightest attempt to provide some relief, by the government or by the neighbors. Not now, not while I am there. It was the same last year… I know people get some help. But it is sporadic, uncoordinated, and insufficient.

The water rises and subsides. People die. Thousands lose their shelters, hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, have their dwellings damaged. Arch capitalist Indonesia does close to nothing to help. The system despises everything that is public. Only profitable undertakings are taken seriously and implemented. Meaning: only those activities that can enrich individuals, who are already wealthy, are seriously considered.

trying to direct traffic in flood

Trying to direct traffic in the flood.

As Jakarta is under water, the rest of Indonesia is living through many equally unnecessary horrors: the flood inundated at least twenty-two villages in Central Java, and landslides killed people in Malang, East Java. Nineteen people died from flooding and landslides in and around Manado, on the island of Sulawesi. Several years ago, the UN nominated Indonesia as “the most disaster prone nation on earth”.

It is true that the country sits on the so called ‘ring of fire’. It is true that it is periodically shaken by earthquakes, battered by tsunamis and even by ash flying from restless volcanoes. Some calamities cannot be predicted or prevented. But most of the lives lost are due to absolutely ‘unnatural disasters’ triggered by a totally unnatural element – bizarre market fundamentalism. Indonesia is run by thugs, by a heartless, cold-blooded clique of thieves, who have survived as species ever since the US-sponsored coup of 1965 in which most of leading Indonesian citizens were slaughtered, imprisoned or exiled.

The country is kept static by a violent blend of late feudalism/early capitalism, fundamentalist religiousness (definitely not only Islam, but also Christianity, even Hinduism), and disinformation/ awful level of education.

The infrastructure of the country is almost finished – collapsed. Corrupt priests, factory owners, business lobbies: all of them have no time for things they see as frivolous or even insane: like public works, the building of public transportation, better schools and hospitals, or simple things like tsunami prevention, a drainage system, waste management or the distribution of drinking water.

under the flyover

Under the flyover.

The country’s system is essentially based on maximizing profits, on looting all there still is under and above the earth, and then on throwing some meager and voluntary charity into the faces of the poor, that is the majority. As a member of the Academy of Science of Indonesia told me few years ago, Jakarta and all major Indonesian cities have the worst access to clean water than the cities of India and even Bangladesh. Waste management is seen as an unnecessary expenditure. And so the rivers and channels of all major cities are clogged by garbage.

The drainage system is inadequate and old, dating often to the Dutch era, when Jakarta, then Batavia, was a small city of few hundred thousands, not the monster of twelve million that it is now. There are hardly any green areas in the city, as developers ate almost all the parks. And in the mountains, soil erosion, excessive logging, mining and ‘development’ again, caused such environmental destruction that in the rainy season, water flows from higher ground in an unpredictable and uncontrollable way.

Of course nature fights back; it punishes those who break its patterns, destroying it. Unfortunately, in this country, those that are really responsible for this disastrous national project – Indonesia – are hiding behind high walls in comfortable and relatively safe neighborhoods. The poor, robbed of everything and unprotected, are battered by landslides, inundated and ruined. It is all very brutal and very simple.

in the police tent,  helping flood victims

In the police tent, helping flood victims.

“In Jakarta”, as a leading Indonesian businessman who presently lives abroad told me: “they will never build any decent public transportation system, because of the car lobby. And business cares nothing that all major cities are experiencing near-total gridlock and terrible pollution”. The same can be said about the construction industry. As I was explained to by Ms. Sofya, a victim of this year’s floods, who literally lost her house in North Jakarta: “Why should businesses care about state projects. Once they are finished, state projects do not return. If no drainage is built and floods keep coming back every year, hundreds of thousands of houses will keep getting destroyed … It is great, isn’t it? It is great for business. It means tremendous profits for those who repair and rebuild houses and buildings.”

Professor Muslim Muin from the prestigious Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) has no doubts where the problem lies: “Don’t blame the ocean. The sea level this year is normal. The problem is that the rivers and channels in Jakarta, cannot not cope with the amount of water. Before the rainy season, the government should perform a hydrodynamic simulation, and then it would know what kinds of pumps are needed and what type of drainage system should be used.”

But the government doesn’t perform almost any such tests. And every year, the floods come as a ‘surprise’. And people lose their homes. And those in power make huge profits. And the religions somehow make sense of all this, so that the rich remain rich. And nothing changes. And so next year, the nation will be once again be ‘surprised’ by new occurrence of devastating floods.

Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His discussion with Noam Chomsky On Western Terrorism is now going to print. His critically acclaimed political novel Point of No Return is now re-edited and available. Oceania is his book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about post-Suharto Indonesia and the market-fundamentalist model is called “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. He has just completed the feature documentary, “Rwanda Gambit” about Rwandan history and the plunder of DR Congo. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and Africa. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.

More articles by:

Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Three of his latest books are his tribute to “The Great October Socialist Revolution” a revolutionary novel “Aurora” and a bestselling work of political non-fiction: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire. View his other books here. Watch Rwanda Gambit, his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo and his film/dialogue with Noam Chomsky “On Western Terrorism”. Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to work around the world. He can be reached through his website and his Twitter.

May 24, 2018
Jeff Warner – Victor Rothman
Why the Emerging Apartheid State in Israel-Palestine is Not Sustainable
Kenn Orphan
Life, the Sea and Big Oil
James Luchte
Europe Stares Into the Abys, Confronting the American Occupant in the Room
Richard Hardigan
Palestinians’ Great March of Return: What You Need to Know
Howard Lisnoff
So Far: Fascism Lite
Matthew Vernon Whalan
Norman Finkelstein on Bernie Sanders, Gaza, and the Mainstream Treatment
Daniel Warner
J’accuse All Baby Boomers
Alfred W. McCoy
Beyond Golden Shower Diplomacy
Jonah Raskin
Rachel Kushner, Foe of Prisons, and Her New Novel, “The Mars Room”
George Wuerthner
Myths About Wildfires, Logging and Forests
Binoy Kampmark
Tom Wolfe the Parajournalist
Dean Baker
The Marx Ratio: Not Clear Karl Would be Happy
May 23, 2018
Nick Pemberton
Maduro’s Win: A Bright Spot in Dark Times
Ben Debney
A Faustian Bargain with the Climate Crisis
Deepak Tripathi
A Bloody Hot Summer in Gaza: Parallels With Sharpeville, Soweto and Jallianwala Bagh
Josh White
Strange Recollections of Old Labour
Farhang Jahanpour
Pompeo’s Outrageous Speech on Iran
CJ Hopkins
The Simulation of Democracy
Lawrence Davidson
In Our Age of State Crimes
Dave Lindorff
The Trump White House is a Chaotic Clown Car Filled with Bozos Who Think They’re Brilliant
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Domination of West Virginia
Ty Salandy
The British Royal Wedding, Empire and Colonialism
Laura Flanders
Life or Death to the FCC?
Gary Leupp
Dawn of an Era of Mutual Indignation?
Katalina Khoury
The Notion of Patriarchal White Supremacy Vs. Womanhood
Nicole Rosmarino
The Grassroots Environmental Activist of the Year: Christine Canaly
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
“Michael Inside:” The Prison System in Ireland 
May 22, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Broken Dreams and Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card
Kathy Kelly
Scourging Yemen
Andrew Levine
November’s “Revolution” Will Not Be Televised
Ted Rall
#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure
Gary Leupp
Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?
Binoy Kampmark
Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution
Doug Johnson
As Andrea Horwath Surges, Undecided Voters Threaten to Upend Doug Ford’s Hopes in Canada’s Most Populated Province
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Surprising Election Results
Dana Cook
Canada’s ‘Superwoman’: Margot Kidder
Dean Baker
The Trade Deficit With China: Up Sharply, for Those Who Care
John Feffer
Playing Trump for Peace How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad
Peter Gelderloos
Decades in Prison for Protesting Trump?
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail