Why Indonesia is moving its capital to the rainforests of Borneo

(FILES) People exercise in Jakarta on December 4, 2022 during Car-Free Day, when select streets in the Indonesian capital are closed to motorized vehicles from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and open to pedestrians and cyclists. (Photo by BAY ISMOYO / AFP)

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AFP) – Indonesia is moving its capital from Jakarta to a location more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) away in the rainforests of the island of Borneo.

The project is scheduled to start at the end of President Joko Widodo’s term in office in 2024.

That’s why Southeast Asia’s largest economy is moving its administrative center to Nusantara, a lush, biodiverse region home to the world’s oldest rainforests.

– Sinking City –
Jakarta is sinking at an alarming rate due to excessive abstraction of groundwater.

A 2021 study by Indonesia’s Technology Assessment and Application Agency found that the sprawling megalopolis sinks an average of about six centimeters each year, making it one of the fastest sinking cities on earth.

“Building a dam is inevitable because the tide is already there, but over time the dam will sink and the tide will occur again,” Heri Andreas, a geoscientist at the Bandung Institute of Technology, told AFP.

“The best solution to controlling land subsidence is controlling the exploitation of groundwater,” he said.

A quarter of the capital’s area will be completely under water by 2050 unless urgent action is taken, the National Research and Innovation Agency said.

– Overwhelming Burden –
Jakarta is one of the most overpopulated cities in the world with more than 30 million residents living in its metropolitan area.

Pollution from busy roads and the lack of a garbage collection system – forcing many to incinerate their rubbish – has resulted in air quality that at times rivals that of New Delhi and Beijing.

The government estimates that hours of urban traffic jams cost the world’s largest Muslim-majority country billions of dollars in economic losses every year.

“Jakarta’s burden is overwhelmingly heavy,” Indonesia Transportation Society traffic analyst Djoko Setijowarno told AFP.

“The commute is highly inefficient, long and tiring. It also decreases people’s productivity.”

Widodo said he envisions the new capital as a modern city where everyone can bike and walk between nearby destinations.

– distribution of wealth –
With more than 17,000 islands, Indonesia is the largest archipelagic country in the world.

But its population and economy are mostly concentrated in Jakarta and the wider island of Java, which is home to more than half of the country’s 270 million people.

The government wants to diversify the economic and political power centers in Indonesia.

“The move (of the capital) is for distribution, for fairness,” Widodo said in March.

“We have 17,000 islands, but 56 percent of the population lives on Java. There are 156 million people on Java.”

In comparison, the province of East Kalimantan – where the new capital Nusantara is to be built – has fewer than four million inhabitants.

The government has prepared 56,180 hectares (216 square miles) in East Kalimantan province in Indonesian Borneo, which the country shares with Malaysia and Brunei.

– Disaster Free Zone –
The government cites civil protection as another reason for the capital shift.

According to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, Jakarta is surrounded by active fault lines, making it dangerously prone to earthquakes.

Borneo has the lowest probability of earthquakes compared to other major Indonesian islands because it is farther from active fault lines, the agency said.

Jakarta also struggles with frequent flooding as it is situated on swampland.

Researchers believe water supplies could dry up for many in Jakarta and broader Java unless Indonesia eases pressure on the megalopolis.

“Jakarta and the island of Java are heading towards a drinking water crisis, we predicted that the crisis could occur in 2050,” said geoscientist Andreas, blaming rapid population and industrial growth.

“As populations explode, poor sanitation will worsen, pollutants will contaminate rivers and shallow groundwater, rendering them unusable,” he said.

© Agence France-Presse