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Explained: Why Indonesia is moving its capital, and what next for Jakarta

For Jakarta, the first warning signs appeared in 2007, when one of the city's worst floods was triggered by a regular tide, with some places being buried under as much as 16 feet of water. The floods killed over 80 and displaced over 5 lakh people.

Written by Mehr Gill , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: September 2, 2019 6:57:37 am
Explained: Why Indonesia is moving its capital city, and what next for Jakarta A general view shows the business district in the capital Jakarta, Indonesia, May 2, 2019. (Reuters Photo: Willy Kurniawan)

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo on Monday announced that the capital of the country, which is Jakarta at present, will be relocated to the province of East Kalimantan on the lesser populated island of Borneo. The relocation is meant to reduce the burden on Jakarta, which has been facing problems such as poor quality air, traffic gridlocks and is particularly prone to flooding. It is also the largest Indonesian city with a population of 1 crore people and is located on the North West coast of the most populous island in the world, Java.

Indonesia’s new capital, which hasn’t been named yet, will sit on a 1,80,000 hectare area, which is about three times the size of Jakarta. The cost of this capital relocation is expected to be over US $32.7 billion. The suggestion for changing capitals is not new since several President’s before Widodo have made these suggestions in the past, however, he has been relatively aggressive about implementing the relocation plan.

In 2014, the Giant Sea Wall or “Giant Geruda” (Garuda is the name of a bird from Hindu mythology and is Indonesia’s national symbol) a coastal development project was launched by the government, meant to protect the city from floods. The project is still in the making.

Why is Jakarta sinking?

For Jakarta, the first warning signs appeared in 2007, when one of the city’s worst floods was triggered by a regular tide, with some places being buried under as much as 16 feet of water. The floods killed over 80 and displaced over 5 lakh people.

According to the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre, Jakarta has 661.52 sq. km of land area and is surrounded by 6,997.5 sqq. km of sea. 40 percent of Jakarta’s land falls below the sea level since most of the city’s mainland spans across an alluvial lowland with an elevation of about 7m from the sea. Furthermore, the city’s southern and eastern sections are comprised of lake and swamp land totalling an area of about 121.49 hectares.

Since Jakarta is the centre for administration, governance, finance and trade, it has inevitably led to relentless construction in the city, due to which the water is not able to seep into the ground in many areas, leading to increased run-off. Because Jakarta was built on a marsh, already a few metres below sea level, it is especially prone to being submerged. Due to climate change, the water levels in the Java Sea are rising and weather events are becoming more extreme. A New York Times report attributed to Jakarta, the title of the world’s fastest sinking city. It says the main causes of Jakarta sinking is Jakartans themselves – the digging of illegal wells (because Jakarta does not have adequate piped water) have been steadily draining the underground aquifers on top of which the city sits.

Essentially, it is a combination of climate change and heavy congestion in the city that continues to bury the city, about 25 cm into the ground every year.

Why East Kalimantan?

In a press conference held on Monday, Widodo said, “The government has conducted in-depth studies in the past three years and as a result of those studies the new capital will be built in part of North Penajam Paser regency and part of Kutai Kartanegara regency in East Kalimantan.” He also pointed out that the new capital will be centrally located and be surrounded by urban areas.

East Kalimantan is located over 1,400 km from Jakarta and according to Widodo does not have a history of natural disasters. Furthermore, the government of Indonesia already owns vast amounts of land in the area, the terrain is flat and water resources are sufficient.

Some environmentalists, however, are not happy with the decision since the forests of the East Kalimantan region are home to orangutans, sun-bears and long-nosed monkeys. The area is also equipped with coal reserves.

What next?

The National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) will prepare a draft bill which will detail the process of relocation of the capital, the planning of which is expected to be complete by the end of 2020. The construction of the capital will take over two-three years and the government institutions will start moving out of Jakarta between 2023 and 2024. According to a report in The Jakarta Post, the new capital will act as the centre of the government, whereas Jakarta will continue to be Indonesia’s business and financial centre. The relocation will be funded partly by the government (19 percent) and partly through private investments and public-private partnerships.

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