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Indonesia plans to move its sinking capital city

  • Indonesia plans to move its sinking capital city
    Floods in central Jakarta. Photo: Wikipedia

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Indonesia’s planning minister has announced the capital will be moved to a new location, yet to be decided, reports the BBC.

Jakarta, the current capital, with a population of more than 10 million people, faces several problems. Sitting on the coast on swampy ground, half of the city is below sea level, and it is sinking at one of the fastest rates in the world, primarily due to excessive extraction of groundwater for residential use, since piped water is not reliable or available in most areas. In some places it has sunk by 4 metres since 1970, and according to researchers, parts of it could be under water by 2050. Flooding is frequent and floods are getting worse as water cannot flow out of the sunken areas into the ocean.

Another problem the city faces is traffic congestion, seemingly the worst in the world, and very costly to the economy, up to $6.8bn per year. Chronic flooding makes matters worse. The planning minister has even warned about a potential pandemic, given the poor sanitation.

The viability of Jakarta as a capital city is thus questionable. The idea of moving the capital is not new, it dates back from 1945 when Indonesia became an independent country. So, Indonesians are sceptical about it ever happening.

The options reportedly discussed by the government include a special zone of government offices inside the current capital, moving the capital just outside Jakarta, or building a brand-new capital city on another island. The main candidate for the latter is Borneo.

Indonesia is a diverse country, ethnically and geographically, with more than 17,000 islands, but most of its wealth concentrates in Jakarta, in Java, the country’s most populated island. The population outside Java has long complained about being forgotten by the authorities. A move to decentralize power out of Java could be a sign of this finally changing.

One thing is true: given the threats of climate change, key government agencies need a backup location, but rather than completely abandon Jakarta, it might be better to work on the infrastructure and planning necessary to preserve the city while seeking an alternate administrative core.

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