Indonesian fisherman Miskan said the once-abundant catches he used to enjoy have been dwindling in the past few years on the stretch of the Java Sea.
His meager income was being further strained by having to borrow cash to shore up his home against lapping waves coming further inland on the vulnerable coastline.
“If you have a house on land and then work at sea, it’s hard. But now I work at sea and I live at sea,” said Miskan, 44, who uses one name, speaking outside his small home.
His community’s battle against inundation, blamed on both human-made environmental destruction and the impact of climate change, reflects the risks posed to millions of people by a sinking coastline on Indonesia’s most populous island of Java.
The flooding in Tambaklorok in Central Java province is so bad that Miskan uses a window to enter his home, as his door is half blocked by dirt piled up to keep out the sea.
“It’s hard to save money when you’re a fisherman,” he said.
Miskan had to borrow from neighbors to pay about 7.2 million rupiah (US$511.58) to hire workers to truck in earth.
Thousands of people in Asia and Europe joined rallies demanding more action on climate change on Friday, aiming to force political leaders to come up with urgent solutions at a UN conference that starts today.
Indonesia, an archipelago of thousands of islands, has about 81,000km of coastline, making it particularly vulnerable to climate change along with neighbors like the Philippines.
It is also home to more than one-fifth of the world’s mangrove forests, which naturally help keep out high tidal waters.
However, for years, coastal communities have chopped down mangrove forests to clear the way for fish and shrimp farms, and for rice paddies.
The Indonesian government has scrambled to work with environmental groups to replant mangroves, build dikes and relocate threatened villages.
Yet, many residents, often poor fishers, are either reluctant to leave their homes or simply have nowhere to go farther inland on Java, home to about 140 million people.
“It is impossible for us to move due to economic reasons, so even though there’s tidal floods, I’ll stay,” said Abdul Hadi, whose house in Tambaklorok was below sea levels.
Another villager, Solihatun, 51, regularly needs her roof removed so that the height of the walls can be raised as earth is spread in and around her house.
She said the flooding is sometimes so bad her grandchildren can swim in the living room.
“Thank God for bank loans, so it’s easier to pay off the debt every month,” she said, adding that she had spent more than 5 million rupiah for the last renovation.
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