Indonesian President Joko Widodo said in an interview that he wants to see the speedy construction of a giant sea wall around Jakarta to prevent the low-lying capital from sinking under the sea, lending renewed backing and a sense of urgency to a slow-moving and politically contested mega-project.
Widodo and his government are up against a tight timetable, including a forecast by experts that at the current rate, one-third of Jakarta could be submerged by 2050.
The existential crisis facing the city is the culmination of decades of unfettered development, almost non-existent urban planning and misrule by city politicians who have served private interests over those of the public.
Lacking a comprehensive piped water network, industry and homeowners have tapped into the city’s aquifers, causing rapid subsidence in northern Jakarta, home to several million people.
In this area, the swampy ground has been sinking at an average of about 10cm a year.
Widodo told reporters on Friday that it is time to move ahead with the sea wall, a project the government first began to consider a decade ago.
“This huge project will need to be done quickly to prevent Jakarta from sinking under the sea,” he said.
Widodo said he is determined to push through key projects and reforms, even if potentially unpopular, adding that he would be less constrained by domestic politics in his second and final five-year term.
Widodo was re-elected earlier this year.
He also addressed other ambitious plans for Jakarta, a congested, polluted and sprawling metropolis of 10 million that swells to three times that number when counting those living in the larger metropolitan area.
Widodo reiterated that he wants to build a new capital, suggesting it should be outside Indonesia’s main island of Java, where 57 percent of the country’s nearly 270 million people are concentrated.
“We want to separate the capital, the center of government, and Jakarta as a business and economic center,” he said. “We don’t want all the money existing only in Java. We want it to be outside Java as well.”
Jakarta’s vulnerability to flooding and earthquakes is also a factor, Widodo said.
“We need to make sure our capital is safe from disasters,” he said, without naming the location for the new capital.
The threats facing Jakarta are most visible in Muara Baru, a waterfront slum in the northwest of the city.
A sea wall along the shore is meant to protect the area’s makeshift shacks against the waters of the Java Sea, but the concrete barrier — raised and reinforced after a major flood more than a decade ago — has developed cracks.
A steady trickle of seawater leaks through it, covering the street running alongside the wall with a shallow brackish brew. A half-submerged mosque on the bay side of the wall serves as a stark reminder of what could be in store for the entire area.
Two women in the neighborhood said their homes are flooded frequently.
Jakarta has been described as one of the world’s fastest sinking cities — a result of geographic misfortune and mismanagement. The city sits on swampy ground, with 13 heavily polluted rivers running through it. The main cause for the sinking is the over-extraction of groundwater. The weight of taller buildings being constructed in the past few years further compresses the ground.
Heri Andreas, an earth scientist at Indonesia’s Bandung Institute of Technology, said that in some parts of northern Jakarta, the ground is already 2m to 4m below sea level and is sinking by as much as 20cm a year.
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