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A Different ‘Brexit’ Problem Just Killed 12 Indonesians

At least 12 people have died in a massive traffic jam at an intersection known as "Brexit."

Motorists are seen in a traffic jam on a main road in Jakarta on June 21, 2016 as they return home to break the fast during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. 
Indonesias economy continues to prove resilient with an estimated GDP growth of 5.1 percent for 2016, but weaker than expected global economic expansion may moderate the growth recovery of Southeast Asias largest economy, according to a new World Bank report early this week. / AFP / BAY ISMOYO        (Photo credit should read BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images)
Motorists are seen in a traffic jam on a main road in Jakarta on June 21, 2016 as they return home to break the fast during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. Indonesias economy continues to prove resilient with an estimated GDP growth of 5.1 percent for 2016, but weaker than expected global economic expansion may moderate the growth recovery of Southeast Asias largest economy, according to a new World Bank report early this week. / AFP / BAY ISMOYO (Photo credit should read BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images)

Each year, as the holy month of Ramadan draws to a close, millions of Indonesians cram onto motorbikes or into cars and leave the cities where they live to visit their hometowns. Or at least they try to: massive traffic jams have historically prevented many of them from getting home in time for Idul Fitri, the holiday that marks the end of the month of fasting and religious reflection is known in Indonesia.

And on Friday, the Indonesian transport ministry announced that this year, 12 people died while stuck in a 13-mile traffic jam on the country’s most populous island, Java. According to local media, the victims died from exhaust fumes, dehydration, and heat exhaustion under the equatorial sun.

The somewhat coincidental name of the intersection at the heart of the traffic jam? The “Brexit,” short for “Brebes Exit,” which shares a nickname with Britain’s controversial exit from the European Union.

According to Hemi Pramuraharjo, a spokesman for the transport ministry, the deaths occurred between July 3 and 5. “In terms of this ‘Brexit’ case, there’s been a total of 12 victims over different days,” he said.

Since the 1970s, Indonesia has seen population growth and a massive migration to cities. Infrastructure hasn’t been able to keep up. Even on ordinary days, snarls of chaotic traffic clog some city streets, rendering them impassible except to those on motorbikes, who face hazardous driving conditions and poor air quality. The already terrible situation on the roads is exponentially worse during the annual exodus, known as mudik, at the end of Ramadan.

In Jakarta, the capital, millions of people take to the roads, with whole parts of the city emptying out almost entirely. Authorities begin preparing far in advance, but the country’s current highways and overstrained inter-island ferries simply aren’t equipped to handle the mammoth movement of people.

Those who died waiting to pass through “Brexit” were just a tiny fraction of the more than 400 motorists killed on Indonesia’s roads during this year’s the holiday — and those are just the deaths that authorities were able to count.

“There is a bottleneck there, where there’s a petrol station very nearby and many people queue,” Pramuraharjo said. “There’s no space on the road. We don’t have a solution.”

And the problem is likely to only get worse over the next few days: Those who were lucky enough to get home to their villages in time for the holiday, which took place Wednesday, will now be trying to come back.

FP Assistant Editor Benjamin Soloway contributed to this report. 

Photo credit: BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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