Why Indonesia is moving its capital to the rainforests of Borneo

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

The project should start at the end of President Joko Widodo’s term in 2024.

Here’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 the excessive extraction of groundwater.

A study by the Indonesian Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology in 2021 found that the sprawling megalopolis sinks an average of about six centimeters every year, making it one of the fastest sinking cities on Earth.

“Building a sea wall is inevitable because the flood is already here, but in time the dam will sink, and the flood will happen again,” Heri Andreas, an earth scientist at the Bandung Institute of Technology, told AFP.

“The best solution to control the landing is to control the exploitation of groundwater,” he said.

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A quarter of the capital will be completely underwater by 2050 if urgent measures are not taken, the National Research and Innovation Agency said.

Overwhelming burden

Jakarta is one of the most overpopulated cities in the world, home to more than 30 million residents living in its vast metropolitan area.

The pollution from its traffic-clogged streets and the lack of a garbage collection system—which forces many to burn their garbage—has produced air quality that sometimes rivals New Delhi and Beijing.

The government estimates that hours-long traffic jams across the city cause billions of dollars in economic losses to the world’s largest Muslim-majority country each year.

“Jakarta’s load is overwhelmingly heavy,” Djoko Setijowarno, a transport analyst at the Indonesia Transportation Society, told AFP.

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

Widodo said he envisions the new capital as a modern city where everyone can cycle between destinations that are close to each other.

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wealth distribution

With more than 17,000 islands, Indonesia is the largest archipelago nation on earth.

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

The government says it wants to diversify Indonesia’s centers of economic and political power.

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

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

By comparison, East Kalimantan province – where the new capital Nusantara is being built – has less than four million people.

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

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Disaster-free zone

Another reason for capital relocation cited by the government is disaster mitigation.

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

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

Jakarta also deals with frequent flooding because it sits on swampland.

The researchers believe that the water supply for many in Jakarta and wider Java could dry up if Indonesia does not ease the pressure on the megalopolis.

“Jakarta and Java Island are facing a clean water crisis, we predicted that the crisis could happen in 2050,” said earth scientist Andreas, blaming rapid population and industrial growth.

“If the population explodes, poor sanitation will worsen, pollutants will contaminate the rivers and shallow groundwater, making them unusable,” he said.

© Agence France-Presse


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