The proposal for a new Indonesian capital city has been on the cards ever since the country gained independence from the Dutch in 1945. The political and economic crises which followed have long put paid to the plan, but current president, Joko Widodo, now appears determined to make the move a reality.
At the end of August the government officially confirmed that the capital will be moved from Jakarta to a new location within Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo. Speaking about the move, which will cost at least $30billion, Widodo said: ‘A capital city is not just a symbol of national identity, but also a marker of the nation’s progress. This is for economic equality and justice. This is the vision of an advanced Indonesia.’
A number of factors are likely to have influenced the decision to forge ahead with the move (due to commence in 2024), but it seems likely that Jakarta’s environmental problems are chief among them. Built on swampy ground, Jakarta is sinking, in some parts at a rate of 20cm a year. Experts estimate that most of northern Jakarta could sink beneath the sea by 2050. The government reportedly has plans to build a giant sea wall around the capital, but this alone is unlikely to be sufficient. What’s more, Jakarta is rarely mentioned without reference to its extreme levels of congestion and air pollution.
There could be other reasons too. John McCarthy, an expert on land use in Kalimantan at the Australian National University Crawford School, who comes from another relatively juvenile capital city – Canberra – points to a potential desire to spread wealth throughout Indonesia. ‘Jakarta is the most highly developed core of Indonesia which sucks all the money and opportunities from other areas,’ he says. ‘I think there’s a logic in splitting the economic and political capital.’
But the location of this new political hub is proving controversial. Some environmental groups are concerned that the chosen location in East Kalimantan will increase logging and destruction of nearby forests, home to orang-utans and other endangered species. Indonesia’s planning minister previously told reporters that the new capital will be a sustainable ‘forest city’ that won’t result in the destruction of protected forest, but how exactly this would work has not yet been explained.
McCarthy also mentions another problem: the fact that many people simply won’t want to move. ‘There would be a lot of families who wouldn’t want to move to a new city because it might be very uncomfortable for a while,’ he says. ‘Canberra was like that for many decades, no one wanted to live here.’
Despite these challenges, the government is now putting its plans in motion. But even if this new capital is built, Jakarta will still need protection. Home to ten million people, the city simply can’t be ignored. ‘Jakarta is a mega-city so it’s not going to disappear,’ says McCarthy. ‘It will stay the economic centre of Indonesia. They [Indonesians] will still have to think about defending Jakarta in some way against sea level rise.’
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