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Students train to face floods

Floods in Jakarta in 2007.
Floods in Jakarta in 2007.

Ten-year-old Melyana was submerged under water during the massive flooding that hit Jakarta in 2007, but with the help of her parents she waded out through the flowing water that was higher than her.

Now she remembers the event two years ago with a grin: "The water was so high, my head was underneath it and bobbed up and down."

Mely, as she is known, said at that time she was scared but now she is more prepared if another flood happened. She is now part of an evacuation team at her school.

Last year, she was among 30 students that took part in a five month training on disaster risk reduction organized by Plan Indonesia and The Indonesian Disaster Prevention Foundation. "I know the safe areas to go when there's flooding."

Plan Indonesia has been involved in a number of similar projects in the area, including at five elementary schools in Jakarta and Bogor. Students from the six schools are now connected in a communication network. Students from Bogor, who are upstream, can warn students in Jakarta of possible flooding.

The role of children in disaster risk reduction

Plan Indonesia Disaster Risk Reduction Manager Vanda Lengkong said they wanted to show that children could be part of adaptation efforts in facing climate change.

"We want to prove and show the general public and the government that children – who are usually classified as a vulnerable group, who are viewed as victims or objects – can actually do something significant and even have a great role," she said.

Students receiving school supplies following the 2007 flooding in Indonesia. During the training, Mely says, she learned about climate change, first aid, and how to identify the risks of disaster around her school. With her friends, she participated in a simulation of safety precautions during a disaster.

Her cousin, Dwi Ratmono, 11, was part of the communications team. His task was to inform the school principal if a possible flood was coming. If he saw that the water in the Ciliwung River had risen above normal, or if he received information from students from other school about rain in their area, he would inform the principal.

The growing importance of disaster training

Teacher Rita Vandawari, who has served in the school since 1994 noted that flooding in Jakarta has been worse every year for some time. "Usually, the water only reached the ankle of an adult's foot, but in 2007 the flood reached more than three feet."

An effect of global warming is increased storms and floods. In a report issued in November 1999, the Britain's Meteorological Office warned that flooding in Asia and Southeast Asia would increase more than nine-fold over the coming decades.

The impact of climate change, compounded with results of poor urban management makes Jakarta more prone to floods. This makes training like this all the more important. Principal Maryati said the school hopes the training for children will continue, and possibly be extended to include teachers.