Ulin, 12 years old skinny girl with long hair, must step carefully on her way to school. Seawater floods village road in front of her house in the hamlet of Rejosari, Bedono village, Central Java province. Her right hand holds tightly onto her only pair of shoes. Occasionally she lifts her left hand to keep the balance as she wades past debris from an abandoned house. Only Ulin’s family, remain in Rejosari. Hundreds of their neighbors abandoned their houses and moved to a relocation area.
Ulin stops. In front of her, the river water is flowing quickly. From sea to land. This converse stream occurred because high tide was forcing sea water inland. Ulin is scared. She must cross that streaming river. She’s not concern spending the whole day in school in a wet uniform. She’s afraid, the strong current will pull her under and she will drown.
But, this morning Ulin is lucky. On other side of river, Ulin see’s her friend Riska’s father preparing his boat to go fishing. Ulin no longer scared because Riska father’s take her across with his boat. Not everyday Ulin gets lucky. Oftentimes, Ulin’s father, Saman, carries her on his head across the river.
Saman, his wife and three children, is the only family, still remaining in Rejosari. Since the 90s, the sea has continued to erode inland hamlets such as Rejosari and Bedono village. At its peak in 2007, the entire mainland Rejosari was under seawater. The Indonesian government moved 230 families, or around 1000 resident to another area. But Saman decided to stay.
“Government gave me money 1 million rupiah ($100) as relocation fee, but I used it for paying my daughter’s school admission” said Saman.
His oldest daughter Sari, attends a boarding school in Demak regency, 30 kilometres away.
Sunset. The tide is getting higher. Sea water rushes into Saman’s house. At night, the water level rises to, just 5 cm from the mattres where Saman and his family sleep.
While his family sleeps Sama gets up and prepares to go fishing. In the arms of a cold night, Saman plunged into the sea to catch shrimp. In four hours, Saman catches four kilograms which will earn him about 50 thousand rupiah ($5).
Ten years ago, Saman had a one hectare fish pond. Saman earned five million rupiah ($500) per month from the yield of fish pond. He says life was so good. But now, it’s gone. Sea water swallowed his pond.
Ten years ago, Bedono had 750 hectares of land but now just 500 hectares are left. Sea erosion has covered 30% of Bedono land wiping three of the seven hamlets off map. The land, houses, fish ponds and agriculture fields are now beneath the sea.
Long time ago, Bedono was the most prosperous village in Sayung subdistrict. The people had many fish ponds and agriculture fields. They earned enough to send their children to study at university. Some people went to Hajj in Holy Land Mecca, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. But now, sea erosion has taken all of that.
Tens of pilgrim walk carefully along a bamboo bridge to a sacred graveyard. It’s Abdullah Muzakir’s graveyard, a kyai (Muslim cleric) acknowledged as the propagator of Islam in Bedono village and its surrounding areas in the northern coastal area. The graveyard used to be among residents’ houses. Due to erosion, houses sank, but resident tried to protect the sacred graveyard and build a concrete embankment around it.
Once a year, thousands of pilgrims from many areas visit to celebrate Mudzakir’s dead day.
Every Friday night, people of Bedono pray at their relatives graves and read the Holy Qur’an. Sea erosion also threats the cemetery. Not only the living people, the dead people are threatened by the encroaching seawater.
There’s no week end for Muchyar. Saturday, under extreme sun shine, Muchyar fishes in the middle of sea. But ten years ago, this was his agricultural field with coconut, mango and other fruits. The harvest was so good, Muchyar was able to send his oldest son to university. But now, Muchyar has to work harder, fishing with little earning not much than one hundred thousand rupiah ($10) per day. Just enough to buy food and pay electricity.
Monday morning, the head of Bedono village, Mualipin enjoys his morning coffee. Then he puts on his vest with ink stain on the pocket, covering his uniform and rides his motorcycle. On the way to village he stops to do business. Near the broken bridge, three men are waiting for him. In just in 10 minutes, Mualipin signs and stamps documents, a proposed birth certificate of his first son and official papers to apply for job.
Since elected two years ago, Mualipin spends more time riding his motorcycle, around his village than sitting behind the desk at the office. Mualipin always put the village stamp in his vest pocket. Since erosion has damaged the bridge damage, most of residents of Bedono have to go 10 kilometers or more to reach office of village.
“I was elected by people, so I have to serve them,” Mualipin said.
Nothing is safe from erosion including the village office of Bedono. In the backyard, staff and residents have built a dike from sandbag. The office only 3 meters from the sea.
A marine expert from University of Diponegoro, Muhammad Hilmi says so for the shoreline has retreated 2.6 kilometres from its original position. “Yeaah Bedono is the worst but other areas also have potential threats like Bedono” Hilmi said.
Based on his measurements about eight kilometers of shoreline are prone serious erosion by seawater.
Hilmi points to many factors for the erosion in Bedono. First, land subsidence or sinking. West of Bedono, near Semarang, the capitol of Central Java, everyday 46 companies and factories pump about 1,250 cubic meters of water from the ground. This is causing the land mass to sink about 10 cm per year. Secondly, global warming is causing ice the north and south poles to melt so that the level of sea water is rising. Hilmi says sea water levels are going up 7 millimeters each year.
Land subsidence and a sea level rise are a danger combination.
Thirdly, erosion in Bedono village is worse because in the 1960s, people cut down the mangrove forests to make fish ponds. The area lost its natural barrier to protect the land from sea erosion.
Another factors are reclamation and construction in Tanjung Emas harbor in Semarang, capital of Central Java. With the economic growing rapidly and the need for more land to build houses and industry, the government had a reclamation program to extend the land. But Hilmi said reclamation hurt the local environment, especially Bedono beach as. “reclamation and construction harbor block the waves and sediment to Bedono beach”.
Head of Enviromental Agency in Demak district, Mudiyanto agreed that reclamation in Semarang cause damaged the environment. But he can’t do anything. “It’s provincial policy, I don’t have any authority to stop reclamation,” said Mudiyanto.
Damage has been done. Houses are under water. People have had to relocate.
There’s a group that has not given up and is trying to save Bedono from further erosion. In 2004, Mangrove Bahari started with 25 volunt. This group plants mangrove around Bedono beach. “We can’t surrender against erosion” said Kharis, the chairperson of Mangrove Bahari. They have planted mangrove around 80 hectares.
Every week, with small canoes, the members paddle along the coast, monitoring the mangrove. They measure the height of mangrove, how many mangrove are still growing and how many mangrove dead and need replacement.
But a mangrove expert from University of Diponegoro, Rudy Pribadi is pessimistic that the group can successfully of plant mangrove in Bedono and halt the sea erosion. Strong currents and wind mean only 50% of mangrove can grow. “In some points planting maybe effective but I’m not sure for comprehensive area, mangrove can grow because the erosion in Bedono is so bad,” said Pribadi.
There is no inch of land in the coastal area of Demak district safe from erosion. The Indonesian government don’t have enough money to build a dike along the coast to protect the land. Ten kilometers along the coast of Demak has been affected by erosion. Based on Hilmi’s measurement, from 1991 to 2009, more than 1000 hectares of land in Demak or equivalent of 1300 football fields are under water. Sea erosion threatens another 3000 hectares of land. With a erosion rate of 64 hectares per year. Hilmi predicted, in the next 50 years, all those land and village along Demak’s coast will sink to the sea. Including Saman’s house in hamlet of Rejosari, Bedono village.