Indonesia Moving Its Capital, Because Jakarta Is Sinking
Indonesia is beginning an ambitious program to move its capital city. Because the current capital of Jakarta is sinking.
Indonesia is moving its new capital city to the island of Borneo, because Jakarta, located on the island of Java, is slowly sinking:
A jungle-covered area on the east of Borneo island is set to be transformed into Indonesia’s new capital city.
Concerns over the sustainability of the congested and rapidly sinking political center of Jakarta prompted the need for a new capital. The relocation was announced Monday by President Joko Widodo.
The proposed location, near the relatively underdeveloped cities of Balikpapan and Samarinda, is a far cry from the crowded powerhouse which has served as Indonesia’s financial heart since 1949 — and Widodo acknowledged that moving the country’s capital to the island will be a mammoth and expensive undertaking.
But Jakarta’s rapid expansion in recent years has presented myriad environmental, economic and safety concerns, prompting the government to look elsewhere and ease the strain on the massive metropolis.”As a large nation that has been independent for 74 years, Indonesia has never chosen its own capital,” Widodo said in a televised speech, AFP reported. “The burden Jakarta is holding right now is too heavy as the center of governance, business, finance, trade and services.”
The ambitious project to move the capital will likely cost around 486 trillion rupiah ($34 billion), CNN Indonesia reported, and officials have previously said the relocation could take around 10 years.
Jakarta is home to more than 10 million people, according to the United Nations, with an estimated 30 million in the greater metropolitan area — making it one of the world’s most overpopulated urban regions.
It’s also one of the fastest-sinking cities on Earth, according to the World Economic Forum, dropping into the Java Sea at an alarming rate due to over-extraction of groundwater.
The city sits on swampy ground and hugs the sea to the north, making it especially prone to flooding.
A worsening air pollution crisis, exacerbated by near-constant traffic congestion on its roads, has grown so dire that some residents sued the Indonesian government in July.
No name has been given for the new site, but the government originally announced plans to relocate the capital in April. The move requires parliamentary approval to be given the go-ahead.
Ars Technica provides a good summary of just how bad things are getting in Jakarta:
Different sections of the city—home to 10 million people within an urban area of 30 million—are subsiding at different rates, but most fall in the range of 3 to 10 centimeters every year. Over the years, that has added up to as much as four meters of surface elevation change. This has wreaked havoc on building foundations and other infrastructure. And as Jakarta sits on the coast, where a number of small rivers meet the sea, the flooding hazard is also real. (The fact that sea level is rising doesn’t help.) That includes high-tide seawater flooding but also stormwater flooding as rain captured by the sprawling city’s pavement struggles to drain seaward.
Why the instability? Jakarta is a case of humans doing the wrong things in just the right place. River sediments deposited at the coast in places like this are naturally somewhat compressible. (It’s possible the bedrock beneath is moving a little bit and contributing, as well.) The actual weight of all the buildings and other construction at the surface is acting to compact the sediment a little, not unlike tamping down loose sand or soil in your yard. The biggest factor, though, is excessive groundwater pumping.
Within the sediment beneath Jakarta are several stacked aquifer layers that water can be pumped out of. Between the aquifer layers are impermeable capping layers. The use of well water in and around the city has caused the groundwater levels in the aquifers to drop tens of meters.
Because groundwater lives in the little spaces between grains of sediment, it actually helps support the grains and keep those spaces open. As water level drops, the drained spaces lose that support and can collapse in, compacting the sediment. In addition, the water pressure inside the impermeable capping layers can also drop during all this. This allows them to compress in a more reversible way—more like an air mattress deflating slightly.
While the need to move the capital out of Jakarta isn’t directly related to rising sea levels caused by global climate change, it seems clear from several reports on the matter that this is also a factor contributing to what is happening to the city. For the most part, though, it appears that what is happening in Jakarta is a classic example of a major metropolitan area coming into existence in precisely the wrong place for such major development. Of course, it’s unlikely that the people who began settling in what eventually became Jakarta had any idea that development would eventually lead to the city they’re living in sinking.
Moving a city of 10 million people is no small endeavor, of course, and the government is currently projecting that it will not be until 2024 or further in the future that the as-yet-unnamed future capital city will be ready for habitation. In the meantime, it’s unclear what will happen to the millions of people living in Jakarta while the city literally sinks under their feet.