Climate migration: Floods displace villagers in Indonesia


October 6, 2022 GMT

MONDOLIKO, Indonesia (AP) — All crops had died and farmed fish had escaped from their ponds. The only road to the village was flooded and the water just kept rising, said Asiyah, 38, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.

She knew she had to leave her home on the north coast of Java, as many of her fellow villagers had done months earlier. So about two years ago, after agonizing over the decision for months, she told her husband it was time to go and started packing.


EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of an ongoing series exploring the lives of people around the world forced to move by rising seas, drought, sweltering temperatures and other things caused or exacerbated by climate change.


Java, home to about 145 million people and the Indonesian capital Jakarta, is the most populous island in the world. Scientists say parts of the island will be completely lost to the sea in the coming years.

Much has been written about the sinking capital, which is partially displaced due to devastating floods. Other areas of the country with persistent flooding have received less attention.

About 300 miles (500 kilometers) from Jakarta, entire villages along the Java Sea are submerged in murky brown water. Experts say rising seas and stronger tides as a result of climate change are some of the causes. The gradual sinking of the land and development are also to blame.

One of these villages is Montoliko, where Assiya comes from.

Asiyah smiles as she describes what Mondoliko was like when she was young: Lush rice fields, tall coconut trees and red chili bushes grew around the 200 houses where people lived. She and other children played at the local soccer field watching snakes slither through the grass while butterflies flew through the air.

“Everyone had land,” he says. “We were all able to grow and get what we needed.”

But about 10 years ago, the water came – sporadically and a few inches high at first. Within a few years he became a constant presence. Unable to grow in salt water, crops and plants died. With no land left as the water rose, insects and animals disappeared.

Asiyah says she and other villagers adapted as best they could: Farmers traded their crops for fish ponds. people used earth or concrete to raise the floors of their houses above the water. Netting fences were placed in the yards to catch the trash brought in by the tide.

For seven years Asiyah, her husband Aslori, 42, and their two children lived with the floods, with the water rising every year. But they also noticed changes: neighbors were leaving their homes behind in search of drier land. The call to prayer in the village mosque was quiet. Even the new fishponds became futile, the water rising so high that the fish jumped over the nets.

Full coverage: Climate Migration

She remembers the day she decided they had to leave her lifelong home. Her father, who lived with them, was battling bone cancer and prostate problems, and some days he was so weak he couldn’t stand it. Her son was getting older and faced an increasingly difficult, waterlogged 2-mile (about 3km) walk to school.

“I was worried when the road was flooded – how can we go about our daily lives?” she remembers wondering to herself. “Children cannot go to school or play with their friends. … We can’t live like this.”

The flood water rose, she told her husband it was time to leave.

Early one morning in the pouring rain, Asiyah and Aslori loaded as many items as they could into their boat: photos of their wedding and family, documents, and a large plastic bowl filled with cooking supplies. She left her home for the last time, making the journey 3 miles (almost 5 kilometers) away to Semarang, where she had found an empty one-bedroom concrete apartment to rent.

The first night in their new apartment Asiyah slept on the floor, trying to calm her distraught son.

“I tried to make them understand that there was no other option. We can’t work and they can’t go to school if we lived in Montolico,” he says. “It is uninhabited.”

Asiyah confesses that while she was comforting him, she wanted to go home too. But even if he wanted to go back, it would be impossible—the road to the village was flooded.

Others from Montolico have since left their homes. When The Associated Press visited the village in November 2021, 11 homes were still occupied. By July 2022, that number has dropped to five as the village continues to be swallowed by the sea.

Asiyah and her fellow villagers are just some of them 143 million people likely to be uprooted by rising seas, drought, high temperatures and other climate disasters over the next 30 yearsaccording to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report published this year.

Some local villagers still live in their flooded homes.

In Timbulsloko, about 2 miles (about 3 kilometers) from Asiyah’s village, houses are fortified with raised floors and dirt roads, causing people to stoop when passing through short doorways. Some villagers have received help from the local government, but many are still without a dry place to sleep, fearing that a strong tide in the middle of the night could wash them out to sea.

Adjusting to her new home has been an ongoing process, says Asiyah. Aslori still works as a fisherman near their home and brings back whatever wet he can.

In early September, on a day when the tide was particularly low, Asiyah returned to the old house for the first time since she left. Months earlier she had cried when she saw a photo of her house on a neighborhood chat group, the bridge that once led to the house completely washed away.

But while at home, she calmly sorted through old schoolbooks, saying her son’s name over and over as she carefully picked out items like water bottles and a rusty gas can to bring back to her new home.

Knowing that the tide was going to rise soon and that they could be stranded, Asiyah, Aslori and the other former villagers of Mondoliko who had come to collect items began the journey back to drier land.

“I miss my home,” she says. “I never imagined it would become an ocean.”


The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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