Jakarta – If you feel like Jakarta has been heating up lately, it is not only because of politics, but also from the prolonged dry season trapping heat among the city's buildings.
One of the worst parts of the increasing urban heat is that low-income people often suffer the most from its effects, a recent study has found.
The temperature in Jakarta in the past week has hovered between 30 and 36 degrees Celsius, according to the data from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG). This has sparked complaints from social media users about the unbearable heat and humidity.
What these people were experiencing could be attributed to a phenomenon called the urban heat island effect, in which human-made structures like buildings and roads absorb and reemit heat and pollution more than natural landscape features such as forests and bodies of water.
The heat and the pollution are trapped in highly concentrated areas with limited green spaces, even at night, creating "heat islands" with higher temperatures than surrounding areas.
The study, published earlier this month in the Frontiers in Human Dynamics journal, found that low-income neighborhoods in Jakarta, which tend to be extremely dense, had become heat islands that disproportionately affect people living and working in them because of the lack of access to cooling devices.
"Based on our interviews for the study, informal workers tended to cool themselves by sitting on a house or shop terrace or coming to the nearest park," said Rifda Ufaira, urban planning researcher at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) and lead author of the study. She also highlighted that these people rarely have access to personal cooling devices such as air conditioners and fans.
The problem with Jakarta, however, is that areas with high population density have smaller and fewer green spaces. Meanwhile, open areas available on the outskirts of the city remain unmanaged and inaccessible for them.
Another study done by the World Resources Institute (WRI) Indonesia found that two Jakarta districts with the highest population densities, Johar Baru in Central Jakarta and Tambora in West Jakarta, had few green spaces and trees.
No political will
Jakarta has regulations that highlight the importance of equal distribution of green spaces. However, Rifda's study found that the city was still far from reaching the goal of providing adequate and fair access to open green spaces for its residents.
The city has built several child-friendly public places (RPTRA) that can be used for cooling purposes and other communal activities. But these spaces were still far from accessible to low-income residents, Rifda said.
On the other hand, green spaces were more common in high-income neighborhoods, as developers sell the luxury of such spaces to their customers.
Limited space and budget often became the main reasons behind authorities' reluctance to build more parks in the city. "The problem is political will: If the government does not consider the urban heat issue and unequal access to parks as priorities, it will not increase the budget allocation [for these things]," Rifda said.
The low awareness of the urban heat problem among the public and officials, who often think that hot temperatures are a given in tropical countries, have complicated the situation and prevented authorities from making the issue a priority.
Challenge, not barrier
To solve the problem, Rifda urged that the Jakarta administration not only "increase green spaces in number, but also distribute them equally."
One way to ensure the fair distribution of such green spaces is by prioritizing the voices and needs of vulnerable communities in the policymaking process, said Danny Marks, environmental policy lecturer at Dublin City University who reviewed Rifda's study.
Marks asserted that authorities should pay attention to the working conditions of informal workers, one aspect not much discussed in Rifda's study, who spend most of their time in open spaces, making them prone to heatstroke.
Apart from informal workers, authorities should also pay more attention to the elderly, children and women, since extreme heat could affect the health condition and the population's overall mortality rate, said Almo Pradana of WRI Indonesia.
While waiting for the new parks, officials should educate disadvantaged communities on measures they can take to cool themselves during hot days and on how to construct housing properly to ensure effective air circulation, he continued.
Rifda urged Jakarta to look at Singapore, a tropical city state that, with limited land, has succeeded in innovating with a spatial plan geared toward building sufficient green infrastructure.
"Jakarta tends to see the limited space as a barrier, while Singapore sees it as a challenge," Rifda said. "Jakarta needs to be more creative in interpreting what 'green' means in their green open space policies." (alf)