A New Capital And A Sinking One


Jakarta’s air pollution is one of the worst in the region.

Safa Hameed

Air pollution, overpopulation, congestion, and sinking has caused the Indonesian government to start construction on a multi-billion dollar city in the uninhabited rain forests of the island of Borneo.

Eyeing a 2024 completion, it would dethrone Jakarta as the new capital.

One of the main reasons why a new metropolis is being built is because the old capital, Jakarta, is sinking and it’s too big of a Titanic to save. The sinking stems from two problems: digging of aquifers and rising sea levels. The latter of these two problems is being exacerbated by climate change; sea levels rise as water expands due to excess heat (thermal expansion), as well as an increase of water dumped into the ocean as glaciers continue to melt. This makes Jakarta even more vulnerable than many other coastal cities, since houses have been built, quite literally, next to the water. The consequences of this pale in comparison to the consequences the use of the aquifers pose.

The main problem is caused by city dwellers digging underground wells, or aquifers, both legally and illegally. These wells can cause major damage, as the more water you drain causes the land to eventually  caves in on itself (imagine deflating a balloon). Citizens say they have no choice but to dig aquifers because the government cannot meet their water needs, as they are only able to meet about 40 percent of the demand. Furthermore, 40 percent of Jakarta is below sea level and by 2050 that number will have risen to 95 percent, rising between 10 and 15 centimeters per year.

This isn’t the only reason why the government is building a new capital. Jakarta has continually ranked low in air quality when compared to other countries around the world; smog is frequently seen and many people wear masks around their mouths and noses. Traffic is so terrible that the government has had to impose odd and even number driving days based on one’s driver’s license. Jakarta, despite being on the lush island of Java, contains little to no parks or greenery, and is extremely overcrowded. Ten million people inhabit the small city, making it the second most inhabited urban center after Tokyo.

President Joko Widodo made a televised appearance discussing the new capital, stating, “As a large nation that has been independent for 74 years, Indonesia has never chosen its own capital.” He continued by explaining that time had run out for the sinking city. “The burden Jakarta is holding right now is too heavy as the center of governance, business, finance, trade and services.”

The new capital will be located on the southwest portion of the island of Borneo, near the small coastal village of Balikpapan. This location was chosen for having reinforced infrastructure and no history of natural disasters. It’s a big change, as more than half of Indonesians live across the water on the island of Java, which is the home of Jakarta. The costs of building the new capital are quite high, 34 billion to be exact, but it could just be worth it if Jakarta continues to sink.