“Jakarta has a lot of problems,” says my colleague Hannah Beach, senior Asia correspondent for The Times, “but its most existential one is it’s sinking Up to a foot a year in some places.
Climate change is part of the reason: The Java Sea – which surrounds Indonesia’s capital Jakarta – is rising. But an even bigger factor is that Jakartans, desperate for access to clean water, have dug thousands of illegal wells that effectively drain the marshes beneath the city. Today, 40 percent of Jakarta lies below sea level, and floods are becoming more common.
The encroaching sea presents a threat to one of the world’s most densely packed cities, where 10 million people live in an area roughly half the size of New York City, and another 20 million in the surrounding area. To combat that threat, Indonesia’s popular president Joko Widodo – in his ninth year in office – has devised an audacious solution: He is relocating the country’s capital.
The new capital, now under construction, is called Nusantara. It is being built from land about 800 miles from the present capital. Joko promises that the city will be a model of environmental management, carbon neutral, within a few decades.
Unlike Jakarta, which is in Java, a region that has long dominated the country’s politics and economy, Nusantara is in Borneo, where residents have felt neglected. “Indonesia is more than Jakarta,” Joko told Hannah on a recent visit to Nusantara. “Indonesia is more than Java. So we should make the capital at a place that is far away.”
But it is unclear whether his grand plans will come to fruition. Joko wants the new capital to open next year, before his second – and, by law, final – term as president ends. Not all of his potential successors support the plan. And it seems to be running behind schedule: No residential towers have been built, and the chief architect is concerned that the rapid construction schedule could compromise safety.
“People want Nusantara to succeed because it means to the developing world – despite all the problems put in its way by the legacy of imperialism, by the legacy of colonialism – that a country can succeed on its own terms and a Democracy can and does create its own vision for itself,” Hanna said. “But it is a very challenging task.”
read and see his story accompanying photos and videos,
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