Indonesia Is Moving Its Capital City as the Current One Sinks Into the Sea

By Yessenia Funes on at

For as long as Indonesia has existed—even during colonial times—Jakarta has been its capital. But the 10 million-strong coastal city that sits on the northern coast of Java will soon lose that title, thanks to some serious infrastructural and environmental challenges.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo decided Monday after a cabinet meeting to push forward on this long-anticipated plan, reports the Jakarta Post. The idea of moving the capital city stretches to the country’s first president, Sukarno, in 1945 after it gained independence from the Dutch. It’s finally becoming reality as the city’s reached a tipping point with congestion, air pollution, and, well, climate change. 

In fact, the BBC has dubbed Jakarta the world’s fastest-sinking city. It ain’t lying: The city, parts of which are already below sea level, has sunk 13 feet in the past 30 years, according to Reuters. The highly vulnerable city could be permanently flooded by 2050 as sea levels are expected to rise at least 20 inches and potentially even 5 feet by some estimates, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. Along with sea level rise, the pulling groundwater for human use has reduced the region’s elevation, as the ground can compacts or shrinks when there’s less water running through it, as the Asean Post has noted.

“We want to have a capital that represents the nation’s identity and improves the efficiency of the central government and establish a smart, green and beautiful city.”

All this is why the government is finally moving the capital city—but this won’t be an easy task. First of all, it’ll cost up to $33 billion (£25 billion), according to CNN. Moving a capital not only requires building new government offices and embassies, said Deden Rukmana, the chair of Alabama A&M University’s Department of Community and Regional Planning who specialises in urban development in the country. Moving a capital also requires moving all the people who work in these buildings.

“Everybody needs to be on board,” Rukmana said.

That being said, he thinks it’s a great idea, necessary even. He’s been arguing since 2008 that Indonesia needs to hurry up and move its capital. There’s too much urban development in the city currently: too many people, cars, and buildings. It can’t handle much more if it’s to run efficiently. Removing all the government activity related to a capital can help relieve some of that. The city finally launched its mass transit system at the end of March to help alleviate some of its traffic.

Recent urbanisation has been stretching beyond city limits too, Rukmana explained, eliminating agricultural fields to the south and replacing them with residential and commercial areas, as well as industrial complexes. That means when the rains come—which varies from 70 to 125 inches a year throughout the country’s lowlands—the floodwaters have nowhere to go. And the city floods every year; 13 rivers run through the it, and best believe they fill up with water.

So far, the government hasn’t announced when this move will happen or where the next capital will be. BBC, however, is reporting Palangkaraya on Kalimantan (the Indonesian part of Borneo). Rukmana would like to see it somewhere on this island. What’s key is that it not be on Java anymore, he said—the island is simply too congested.

“We need to have another place to build,” he said.

Jakarta wouldn’t be abandoned. The government envisions it becoming the New York City of Indonesia, the country’s financial heart. However, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan doesn’t believe this decision will reduce the traffic in his city, the Jakarta Post reports. Private cars are the issue there, not government vehicles, he said.

Either way, an underwater city is not a future for anyone—government or private. Jakarta is one of the county’s “vulnerability hotspots,” according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. Moving the capital elsewhere won’t help the people who have to nowhere else to go.

Featured image: AP