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Building
awareness

of a sinking city

The Indonesian capital Jakarta is sinking. Award-winning photographer Cynthia Boll captured the consequences impressively for daily life in the city.  

Water

as a risk

Due to heavy rainfall and rivers that burst their banks, Jakarta has been suffering from water-related problems since time immemorial. Because of subsidence, there is also a threat from the sea. A threat that has been exacerbated by climate change. Cynthia Boll portrayed residents who are confronted by these circumstances on a daily basis. 

How it all started
The idea for this series came about in late 2013 after seeing an interview with Pieter van Oord about the master plan to protect Jakarta: the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development (NCICD) project. Cynthia investigated the reasons behind this gigantic project. After several conversations, she decided she wanted to focus on the social component: the daily effects of the sinking city on its inhabitants.

She described the start of her photo project as follows: ‘I've been in Indonesia for longer periods a dozen or so times in recent years. The first time I was in Jakarta and got to know the residents and the situation, I was struck by the fact that so few people there knew about the threat, the soil subsidence and the seriousness of the situation. I had to do something about that. I wanted to take photos while developing a project to reach people on location.’

Cynthia Boll
Visual storyteller

Portrait of Ibu Sarmini and her family at the exhibition in the Kota Tua district, in the north of Jakarta.

I focused mainly on young people and how to reach them. It's all about their future.

Visible threat
In several places in Jakarta the threat of water is very tangible. There are quays behind which the water is sometimes a metre higher than the land. ‘I think it is important that people become aware of the problem of subsidence and so I developed a project for the inhabitants. I focused mainly on young people and how to reach them. It's all about their future’, says Cynthia enthusiastically.

‘The project developed slowly. It took at least a year to set up the campaign, to devise a social media strategy and to create the content of all communications. I did this with an Indonesian team of young creative people. One of the ideas was to set up a public exhibition. I had already spoken to Van Oord, Witteveen+Bos and Deltares about Jakarta. Thanks in part to their sponsorship, the first of two exhibitions became a reality.’

Cooperation is essential
In order to draw attention to the problems via the exhibitions, Cynthia and her team worked together with Indonesian scientists, local organisations and a school association. The schools set up a successful social media campaign for their pupils and the Indonesian media also became interested in the project. ‘Thanks to the presence of a major national TV broadcaster at the opening of the exhibition and the subsequent reports about the sinking of the city, we were able to reach many people simultaneously. That was really great. It wouldn't have been possible without the involvement if these parties.’  

 

Marine
challenges
in Jakarta

Building
awareness

of a sinking city

The Indonesian capital Jakarta is sinking. Award-winning photographer Cynthia Boll captured the consequences impressively for daily life in the city.  

Mrs. Sarmini

Whenever there's a threat of flooding in the low-lying neighbourhood of Muara Baru, residents bring their belongings to the first floor. Mrs Sarmini is waiting for her husband to help her with the last bits and pieces.

Water

as a risk

Due to heavy rainfall and rivers that burst their banks, Jakarta has been suffering from water-related problems since time immemorial. Because of subsidence, there is also a threat from the sea. A threat that has been exacerbated by climate change. Cynthia Boll portrayed residents who are confronted by these circumstances on a daily basis. 

How it all started
The idea for this series came about in late 2013 after seeing an interview with Pieter van Oord about the master plan to protect Jakarta: the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development (NCICD) project. Cynthia investigated the reasons behind this gigantic project. After several conversations, she decided she wanted to focus on the social component: the daily effects of the sinking city on its inhabitants.

She described the start of her photo project as follows: ‘I've been in Indonesia for longer periods a dozen or so times in recent years. The first time I was in Jakarta and got to know the residents and the situation, I was struck by the fact that so few people there knew about the threat, the soil subsidence and the seriousness of the situation. I had to do something about that. I wanted to take photos while developing a project to reach people on location.’

Marine challenges
in Jakarta

Jakarta is one of the fastest-sinking cities in the world. Climate change is aggravating the problems of soil subsidence, heavy rainfall in the monsoon season, and increasing urbanisation. The Indonesian government has introduced the Jakarta National Capital Integrated Coastal Development (NCICD) plan. It is aimed at guaranteeing the safety of millions of Jakartans during floods and at expanding the city’s comfortable living and working environment more to the north. Van Oord has been tackling marine challenges in Indonesia for more than a century. Our presence in the region will be even more valuable due to the impact of climate change.

Portrait of Ibu Sarmini and her family at the exhibition in the Kota Tua district, in the north of Jakarta.

Visible threat
In several places in Jakarta the threat of water is very tangible. There are quays behind which the water is sometimes a metre higher than the land. ‘I think it is important that people become aware of the problem of subsidence and so I developed a project for the inhabitants. I focused mainly on young people and how to reach them. It's all about their future’, says Cynthia enthusiastically.

‘The project developed slowly. It took at least a year to set up the campaign, to devise a social media strategy and to create the content of all communications. I did this with an Indonesian team of young creative people. One of the ideas was to set up a public exhibition. I had already spoken to Van Oord, Witteveen+Bos and Deltares about Jakarta. Thanks in part to their sponsorship, the first of two exhibitions became a reality.’

Cooperation is essential
In order to draw attention to the problems via the exhibitions, Cynthia and her team worked together with Indonesian scientists, local organisations and a school association. The schools set up a successful social media campaign for their pupils and the Indonesian media also became interested in the project. ‘Thanks to the presence of a major national TV broadcaster at the opening of the exhibition and the subsequent reports about the sinking of the city, we were able to reach many people simultaneously. That was really great. It wouldn't have been possible without the involvement if these parties.’  

 

I focused mainly on young people and how to reach them. It's all about their future.

Jakarta is sinking fast, between 10 and 25 cm per year. If nothing is done, a third of the city will be permanently under water in 20 to 30 years. February is the height of the rainy season. Intense rainfall, a lack of decent drainage and soil subsidence cause severe flooding.

Jakarta relies on an old seawall to protect the city from the sea. Unfortunately, the seawall is rapidly sinking into the ground and offers little protection against the water. Muara Baru, the district immediately adjacent to the seawall, has dropped by a metre in the last four years. There is little or no awareness of the threat among its residents. 

During the rainy season, most of the Kampung Aquarium district is permanently under water. Schools are closed for days and the children play at home in polluted water. Many water-related problems can be attributed to climate change and the related issue of sea level rise. The degree of subsidence is unknown but is expected to exceed absolute sea level rise by a factor of 10. 

Who is Cynthia Boll?  

Photographer Cynthia Boll's work focuses on visualising the impact of political, economic and environmental factors on people. She does so by staying close to her subject and by investing a lot of time in the preparation of her projects. She won the prestigious Dutch prize for photo journalism, the Silver Camera 2018, for her series Sinking Cities, Jakarta.

More sinking cities
During Van Oord's first S.E.A Talk, an interactive workshop on Accelerating Climate Initiatives, Cynthia gave an inspiring presentation on Jakarta. ‘I will continue to focus on the subject of Sinking Cities', Cynthia explains. ‘Together with Deltares, I have selected five new cities. Once again, I will be working with the scientific and creative sectors to bring the city and its inhabitants into the picture: Mexico City. A new opportunity to raise awareness of subsidence.’  

You can follow her progress and contact her via: