Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands: “Jakarta, the sinking city” Photo exhibition

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(Photo: Prive. Doc)

 IO – The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is organizing a photo exhibition themed ‘Sinking Cities, Jakarta’ at the Erasmus Huis Cultural Center, the vibrant cultural center of The Netherlands in Jakarta; the show will last for one month, until 22 December 2019. The photo exhibition, featuring Cynthia Boll’s work, not only manages to attract the attention of many visitors, but also concerns vital issues for the majority of visitors, who are citizens of Jakarta. 

Cynthia Boll is an independent award-winning photographer. Having started as a news-wire photographer, it was during her assignment in Afghanistan for Marie Claire Netherlands that she came upon a special subject that would change her photographic journey drastically. Since that time, she has works mainly on long-term self-initiated projects, themed about the influence of political, economic and environmental factors on humans. Creating a unique compelling visual story, combining documentary photography with new technologies and forms of communication, her stories are shown from the perspective of ordinary people. In Bolls view new developments in photojournalism and the ever-changing media offer challenges and new opportunities to tell a story in an innovative way, focusing on participation and involvement. 

Her work has been published in international media; solo exhibitions in the Netherlands & Jakarta. Among others, she has been commissioned for National Geographic Magazine Netherlands, NGOs and international organizations. A photobook Banjir! Banjir! About covered Jakarta’s water challenges. 

She is the founder of Utarakan Jakarta, ‘The People Behind the Seawall’ an online awareness and information campaign about the sinking of Jakarta, targeting the Jakarta’s urban young. Other projects: Sour Grapes, a visual report about the work and living conditions of seasonal workers in South Africa’s wine industry, and 29 Minutes, a photo series on maternal mortality in Afghanistan. 

Since 2016 she has been a permanent judge for the TV program ‘Het Perfecte Plaatje’, a photography special on Dutch RTL 4. 

The issue 

rising sea levels, due to climate change, are measured in centimeters over decades—a serious, but future threat to coastal cities. These same cities, and even landlocked ones, are facing a more immediate concern – they are sinking not centimeters, but a meter in one decade now. 

For example, in Jakarta, the land surface sinks an average of 10 to 25 centimeters per year. If no action is taken, a third of the city will be under water in 20 to 30 years’ time. The situation in Jakarta is not unique: parts of Venice, Dhaka, New Orleans, Bangkok, The Netherlands and numerous other cities will sink below sea level in the foreseeable future. 

Land sinks for many reasons; in high-elevation Mexico City it is because the aquifer under the city is being tapped too quickly. Low-lying New Orleans is sinking because of extensive pumping efforts to protect property and industry from flooding, which then dries out the porous soil causing the land to sink. 

According to Deltares, an independent institute for research in the field of water and subsurfaces, land subsidence will surpass sea level rises by a factor of 10 in many coastal and delta cities. This is many times higher than the anticipated rise in sea level due to climate change. It is one of the most underrated threats to our future: a “secret killer”. 

Whatever the cause, the impact is concerning. Migration to cities worldwide is increasing; now the majority of people live in urban areas. That means tens of millions of people are already at risk from the sinking land where they live. The threats: floods from ocean or rainfall, sanitation issues and lack of clean water. Not to mention loss of property, business and potentially, life. 

In contrast to climate change, land subsidence is a local problem. The good news is that means solutions are possible locally in the sinking cities. These solutions can be models to help cities not just facing land subsidence, but also ones that are at risk of inundation from future sea level rises from climate change. 

Given this grave but also fixable issue, it’s hard to believe public awareness of sinking land is not a top priority on political and corporate agendas. 

Cynthia Boll plans to change that with the global project SINKING CITIES. In addition to collaborating with impacted communities, among others she is partnering with scientists and other creatives. 

Manager of Erasmus Huis Joice Nijssen said, “What Cynthia Boll is trying to do is to remind the people and the government of Jakarta about the flood and land subsidence in the capital city so that they will be aware about the situation and then make some improvement. Cynthia is collaborating with the people who are the victims of land subsidence to depict the real situations they face.” (OHW)