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.

FILED UNDER: Asia, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. gVOR08 says:

    I’m gonna scream bloody murder if anyone tries to use my tax money to move Miami Beach.

  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    @gVOR08:
    Oh but they are going to try.

    And if Dorian crushes Mar-a-Lago, Tiny will be the first to apply.

  3. Keep in mind that the reasons that Jakarta is sinking are not really related to climate change but more to the fact that the city was built in any area that, it turns out, isn’t really appropriate for a city of 10 million people.

  4. Jen says:

    This will certainly be interesting to watch. Having lived in Indonesia, albeit not in Jakarta, my memory is that building codes and such were not necessarily strictly adhered to–but with the international investment that has come since, these are now required. How they will build a new city that can withstand the population shift in the amount of time they are targeting is going to be a considerable challenge.

  5. Kathy says:

    In the 70s there was much talk that Mexico City was sinking, for similar reasons.

    Blame the Spaniards, who took a city built on islands on a lake in a valley, and drained the lake to expand the city. Sinking aside (last I looked, the city’s still there), the water-saturated soil liquefies with each earthquake, which causes a lot more damage. We also have issues with flooding(*). The drainage and sewer systems cost a boatload of money to build, and they’re expensive to maintain. To top it all off, there are drinking water shortages.

    I think the sinking issues settled (ha ha) because we stopped pumping out ground water. Instead we bring water in, to this former lake, from far off sources using aqueducts. The whole setup is insane.

    (*) With every major flood, people like to say that “water seeks to return to its home,” which is high grade nonsense. Water flows downhill, and a dry lake basin is at the bottom of a downhill; that’s why there was a lake there to begin with.

  6. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    A jungle-covered area on the east of Borneo island is set to be transformed into Indonesia’s new capital city.

    Should someone be asking if tearing down a jungle to build a city for some portion of 10 million people and a government bureaucracy is the best possible idea/use of the jungle?

    the city was built in any area that, it turns out, isn’t really appropriate for a city of 10 million people.

    Which begs the question of whether cities of 10 million people are part of the natural order.

    With every major flood, people like to say that “water seeks to return to its home,” which is high grade nonsense.

    I would say “poetic” rather than “high grade nonsense” myself. And also note that the water “returning home” is part of the immutable laws of physics–as you allude to in the next sentence.

  7. Jen says:

    @Kathy:

    the water-saturated soil liquefies with each earthquake, which causes a lot more damage.

    Yes, and Jakarta of course is on the “Ring of Fire,” and therefore has both earthquakes and volcanic activity. If this description is accurate:

    Because groundwater lives in the little spaces between grains of sediment, it actually helps support the grains and keep those spaces open.

    I would think Jakarta would likely be susceptible to liquefaction if a big-ish earthquake hit nearby.

  8. Kathy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Which begs the question of whether cities of 10 million people are part of the natural order.

    No. But neither are cities of 100,000 people(*)

    And also note that the water “returning home” is part of the immutable laws of physics–as you allude to in the next sentence.

    I beg to differ. if you filled up the land, or raised it up, water would stop flowing there. Being in a seismically active area, nestled near the confluence of two mountain chains, it’s a good bet the area occupied by Mexico City won’t remain receptive to water flows for long, geologically speaking.

    (*) 100,000 is the absolute minimum population, IMO, for a humen settlement to qualify as a city. Anything less is a town or a village.

  9. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    I beg to differ. if you filled up the land, or raised it up, water would stop flowing there.

    Change the conditions, change the physics. And infilling (which is what I assume you mean by “filled up” doesn’t always change the way that the aquafer performs underground.

    I agree on cities of 100,ooo+, but I live in twin-cities area of roughly 54,000 and it’s just as f’kt up as any city I’ve ever lived in. I ascribe it to EHTD. (for translation purposes, insert “T” where the “H” is and then substitute “humans” back in as the “H.” TL/DR: Everything humans touch dies.)

  10. Kathy says:

    @Jen:

    Yes, and Jakarta of course is on the “Ring of Fire,” and therefore has both earthquakes and volcanic activity. If this description is accurate:

    We have three volcanoes nearby: Ajusco, Ixtlazihuatl, and Popocatepetl. The latter one has been active for the past two decades or so, spewing ash and smoke from time to time. No clue whether it will erupt.

    Now, not all the current city was part of the Tenochtitlan lake, nor is all on top of treacherous soil. A great deal of it has solid bedrock underneath. Quake damage there is quite less severe

  11. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    And if Dorian crushes Mar-a-Lago, Tiny will be the first to apply.

    I will be the first to gladly assist. I will throw him a roll of Paper Towels.

    No charge!

  12. Guarneri says:

    I hope we didn’t build too big a military base there.

  13. Tyrell says:

    @Kathy: The “ring of fire” is indeed acting up. Magma levels are rising, creating instability and heat. Add to that the increased radiation from the electron particles hitting the earth, and the unstable magnetic field.
    Lightning strikes of Biblical proportions kill five and injure hundreds in Poland.