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  • Balázs Farkas

Is a New Capital the Solution for Indonesia’s Problems?

Jakarta, the crowded capital of Indonesia, is sinking and becoming prone to floods, which are growing in strength and posing a danger for its citizens. That is the main reason of the national government’s recent announcement to establish a new capital called Nusantara. It is seen a way to bring economic benefits and cure overcrowding, but has been highly criticized by environmentalists.

Photo: Orangesmile

The Current Situation in Indonesia

The Republic of Indonesia is the world’s largest island country, with more than 17,000 islands, including Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi and some parts of Borneo and New Guinea. Indonesia is home to more than 270 million inhabitants, which makes the country the fourth most populous in the world. Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim community, as well. Indonesia was a Dutch colony before proclaiming its independence in 1945. Indonesia is one of the largest emerging economies in the world, relying on coal mining, and using coal power plants, despite global trends which sees fewer coal-powered power plants in use. Indonesia is also one of the largest exporters of palm oil. This economic structure is responsible for a dangerous air quality, and the deforestation of the jungle, which is home to one of the most unique ecosystems in the world.

Jakarta. (Photo: World Travel Guide)

Overcrowded, yet Vitally Important

Jakarta is an overcrowded capital, with hour-long traffic jams and poor air quality. Located on the shores along the island of Java, flooding is a regular occurrence, especially in the rainy season. In Jakarta, approximately 60% of the citizens use groundwater, which causes the ground (as well as any above-ground structures) to sink when the groundwater is pumped out. There are some parts of the city where the surface has sunk four meters (13 feet) since 1970. If the surface has sunk, the water cannot flow through the city to the ocean and will settle there. Due to its high population and relatively centralized location in the country, the economic power of Indonesia is concentrated in Jakarta, providing several benefits for the inhabitants. But this has caused high economic disparity between the capital and other regions of the country, which remain impoverished and cannot compete with Jakarta.

The Plan to Save Jakarta

One of these regions is East-Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo, in the middle of the country. Here is the planned home of the new capital, Nusantara. Nusantara is the Javanese name of the Indonesian archipelago, and it symbolizes the identity of the nation. The new location has the added benefit of being resistant to natural disasters, which is not usual in Indonesia. The cost of the move will be $32.5bn, making it one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Indonesia’s history. To build the new governmental center and homes for 1,5 million workers will take nearly a decade. Nusantara is aimed to ease the burden of Jakarta by attracting residents of Jakarta from the current capital. Also, as a new hub, Nusantara can refresh the Indonesian economy, making it more diverse.

Saving Jakarta at What Price?

In contrast, the plan of the new capital does not deal with environmental issues. The location of the future capital is now a rainforest, with unique species, like orangutans, sun bears and long-nosed monkeys. The planned destruction of the jungle has raised concerns among indigenous people and environmentalists.

The unique fauna of Borneo could be at risk with the construction of the new capital. (Photos: Schutters, Kimdeyir, iStockphoto)

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