When “Brexit” actually kills: Indonesia’s new threat

Photo: Liputan6.com/Angga Yuniar

By Fawnia

When voters of the United Kingdom chose to leave the European Union on 23 June, the term coined for that was on the tip of everyone’s tongue – “Brexit”. An abbreviation of “British exit”, the term Brexit quickly found its way to news headlines around the world, as the UK looked to face an uncertain economic future. No casualties, however, was involved in the whole affair.

So when Indonesian media reported a whole new “Brexit” that that took the lives of 13 people, Indonesians began to wonder what exactly does the term meant.

Brexit – Brebes Exit

As it turns out, the new “Brexit” also stands for Brebes Exit, the exit of the toll road of Brebes in Central Java, Indonesia. The seemingly harmless end of the trans-Java toll road has killed at least 13 people within three days. They were stuck in a three-day traffic jam at the intersection.

That traffic jam was certainly not your usual rush hour traffic jam. It stretched to over 20 km, and would take motorists over 12 hours to reach the end of the exit. This is not surprising, as the island of Java is home to over 144 million people.

The mass exodus, which happens every year during the holiday season at the end of Ramadan, also known as mudik in Indonesian, has always been a long-time tradition of both Indonesian citizens, both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The holiday season can be far from being festive and enjoyable, as around 400 motorists were reported dead during this year’s mudik season.

The homeward travellers that were stuck in Brexit – Brebes exit – were reported to have died of exhaustion and congestion. The Brebes Health Agency stated that there were 18 deaths in relation to the mass exodus; 12 of them were caused by the traffic jams.

The remaining five were involved in a car accident and another one died of unknown reasons. The agency also explained that some of the victims were found to be dead while they were still in the buses, and some others, when they were sent to the hospital. The head of the Health Ministry’s crisis centre, Achmad Yurianto, confirmed that fatigue and dehydration as experienced by the travellers were life-threatening, especially among children and the elderly. The extended use of air-conditioning in the cars also lowered the oxygen rate and increased carbon dioxide, thus putting more lives at risk.

“There is no way a traffic jam can kill people”

Contrary to the reports, however, Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan resolutely denied the statement that traffic jams can kill you. It was definitely a huge responsibility he has on his shoulders – ensuring the safety of millions of the road users who head home.

“There is no way a traffic jam can kill people. That’s impossible”, said the minister when questioned about the fallen victims of the mass exodus. He refuted the claim that the victims have died due to exhaustion. Instead, he argued that they must have suffered certain diseases prior to their death.

He reasoned that during the fasting month of Ramadan that lasted over 12 hours, no one has been reported to die due to physical strains. And so, he came to the conclusion that the traffic jam could not be the sole reason behind the deaths of 12 people.

The minister’s statement on the matter, though, received nothing but the cold shoulder in response from the citizens. A relative of one of the victims, Yuli Rakhmawati Ramdhani,released an open letter in response to Jonan’s unwillingness to admit that the 20 km-long traffic jam caused the travellers to die. In her letter, Ramdhani asked the minister to reconsider his statement. Her uncle, who was planning to go back to his hometown in Boyolali, died due to the lack of oxygen in a car stuck in the traffic.

The tragedy was viewed differently by National Development Planning Minister Sofyan Djalil. He suggested that the massive traffic jam was a proof of Indonesia’s economic growth, as middle class could afford cars instead of using motorcycle. That certainly did not alleviate the pain of grieving family members, who demanded an explanation from the authorities.

Jonan promised that a thorough evaluation would be made in order to prevent a similar disaster in future. As motorists were said to be five times the amount as that in previous years, Jonan said the misfortune could not be predicted. By 18 July, he assured that the government would recap all accidents associated to the mass exodus, in hope to find a solution that would minimise the fatalities.