Jakarta is plagued by chronic flooding, with the 2015 rainy season expected to be a bad one. Image: Llana Margaret-June Tulloch.

Twitter Helping to Share Flood Information in Indonesia

ASEAN Australia Indonesia

American social media giant Twitter is partnering with an Indonesian/Australian data collection project to share real time information about flooding for Jakarta residents and government agencies. The project, Peta Jakarta, aims to harness the power of social media to advance the resilience of cities against extreme weather events and long term infrastructure disruptions.

Earlier in the year, Twitter introduced a pilot projected named Twitter Data Grants, through which the company will give a handful of research institutions access to their public and historical data. Using the vast amount of data Twitter collects daily (there are over 500 million tweets a day globally), the company plans to collaborate with international research institutions to gain insights and further research on a variety of topics.

The Peta Jakarta project is run by the SMART (Simulation, Modeling, Analysis, Research and Training) Infrastructure Facility at Australia’s University of Wollongong. Founders Etienne Turpin and Tomas Holderness recognized the possibilities of crowdsourcing big data and decided to apply their model to help tackle the problem of flooding in Jakarta. Indonesia’s capital city faces chronic flooding, with the Indonesian National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) predicting extreme floods at the peak of the current rainy season in mid-January 2015. Jakarta is one of the world’s most rapidly urbanizing cities, with a current population of 10.2 million. The BNPB estimates 37 sub-districts of Jakarta will be flooded during this season, with the possibility of 122,417 people being displaced.

Thanks to high levels of Twitter usage in Indonesia’s capital, Peta Jakarta can construct detailed maps of flooded areas. Image: Peta Jakarta.

The Peta Jakartka platform runs on SMART’s open source software CogniCity, a ‘GeoSocial’ framework which allows data to be collected based on individual’s location-enabled devices. Users are encouraged to enable geolocation on Twitter before tweeting their message to @petajkt and using the hashtag #banjir (‘flood’ in Bahasa Indonesia). With access to Twitter’s data collections, Peta Jakarta is then able to generate a detailed map of areas affected by flooding.

Last year alone the US provided $150,000 in Foreign Disaster Assistance to Indonesia, after severe flooding in Jakarta overwhelmed the BNPB. USAID Humanitarian Assistance in the Asia-Pacific totaled $298 million between 2004 and 2013, with Indonesia being the region’s largest recipient. Flooding accounted for over 40% of total disasters declared in the same period. International projects such as Peta Jakarta can make disaster response more efficient, protecting lives and reducing the need for American assistance.

In contrast to many developing nations in Southeast Asia, Indonesia has some of the highest rates of social media usage in the world. More tweets are sent daily in Jakarta than any other city on Earth. In the last 14 years the number of internet users grew from 2 million to over 55 million, with many Indonesians accessing the internet through mobile phones. While household access has remained low, with less than 10% of households having internet connections, the popularity of 2G and 2.5G phones and some of the cheapest mobile data plans in the world has seen Indonesians get online rapidly.

Jonathan Gordon recently graduated from the University of Sydney and is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington, D.C.