Strengthening resilience of flood vulnerable communities in Indonesia during the COVID-19 crisis

Source(s): Flood Resilience Portal

By Yoko Okura, Piva Bell and Iswar Abidin

Mercy Corps Indonesia is supporting the Indonesian government to enhance resilience to both COVID-19 and recurrent flooding in slum communities in Jakarta. Our experience highlights the importance of programming and messaging that considers concurrent vulnerabilities to multiple threats.

As COVID-19 spreads throughout Indonesia, Mercy Corps has, in partnership with the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, been working with national and local governments to adapt flood resilience programs to incorporate COVID-19 risk. Indonesia currently has over 16,000 cases of the corona virus, with around one third in the capital Jakarta. 

Worst floods in a decade 

Earlier this year severe flooding devastated the capital, impacting hundreds of thousands of people. Floodwaters inundated critical infrastructure such as hospitals, commuter lines, and even the presidential palace. Flooding is becoming more severe and frequent due to the impacts of climate change. The arrival of the COVID-19 crisis has both exacerbated the impacts of floods, and forced planners and responders to rethink traditional ways of supporting communities in vulnerable areas. 

Facing floods and COVID-19 in crowded slums 

Penjaringan Urban Village has one of the highest risks to floods in Jakarta. A densely populated slum area with some neighborhoods having population density ten times that of other similar-sized areas, Penjaringan experiences severe tidal, urban, and river flooding. 

Narrow two-story houses no more than ten square meters line crowded alleyways less than two meters wide. Half of the population is unemployed or identified as poor. Access to clean water for sanitation and hygiene is a challenge during floods - this environment now poses a new risk: transmission of COVID-19. 

Fajar, an official from one of the most densely populated neighborhood units explained, “Interventions and awareness campaigns on COVID-19 are lacking here, despite active cases in the community. Some information has been provided by the health authority but it has not reached everyone. People are continuing their daily activities. Five new handwashing facilities have been installed as donations by a company, but this is not enough for the 16,000 households in my neighborhood.”

Mercy Corps providing access to, and knowledge on importance of, hand-washing

After consultations with government and community members, we are providing 30,000 households in Penjaringan with hand-washing facilities so they can maintain their hygiene to protect against COVID transmission as well as other water borne diseases prevalent during flooding. Importantly, communities have committed to taking ownership of maintaining these facilities so they are utilized sustainably beyond this crisis. 

Ensuring that the most vulnerable groups understand the risks and prevention measures for avoiding COVID-19 is essential to strengthen the resilience of communities. 

For example, around one in five of the population in Penjaringan have not attended any type of school. Out of the 18 percent that have completed their secondary education, women account for only 40 percent. 

Messaging that makes sense 

Mercy Corps has adapted government issued COVID-19 awareness and prevention messaging,  and developed user-friendly flyers and banners so people with different education attainment levels can engage and understand crucial prevention information. These Information, Education and Communications (IEC) materials have now been formally endorsed by the National Disaster Management Agency and national COVID-19 task force. 

Governments, donors, I/NGOs, and communities must all work collectively to strengthen the resilience of vulnerable communities during this crisis.



 Flyers and banners with messages raising awareness of actions to prevent COVID-19 created by Mercy Corps Indonesia. 

The right knowledge allowing appropriate action 

Our engagement with communities show that simple steps like clear messaging on prevention, can help families take appropriate action to prevent transmission. As the monsoon season approaches in Asia, we must, now more than ever, consider the underlying, systemic vulnerabilities of our communities. 

Understanding the varied risks of different groups, and tailoring communication and programming accordingly, will help communities prepare and respond to risks of both COVID-19 and flooding. 

Mercy Corps is working to help the world’s most vulnerable people protect against COVID-19, meet immediate needs and prepare for the devastating impact of economic shock that will push people further into crisis. More details about our work can be found on our website.

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