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Indonesia Will Build A New Capital. Here’s Why.

Overpopulated and congested Jakarta may no longer be suited to be Indonesia’s capital.

A view of the Jakarta skyline at night. (Image Credit: Muhammad Rasyid Prabowo/Wikimedia Commons)
A view of the Jakarta skyline at night. (Image Credit: Muhammad Rasyid Prabowo/Wikimedia Commons)

The Indonesian government has decided to shift the nation’s capital from Jakarta to the region of Kalimantan. The government led by President Joko Widodo has finally put into motion a decades-old plan to move the capital after identifying an ideal new spot in the region of Kalimantan, according to the Asia News Network.

The announcement was made by the Minister of National Development Planning Bambang Brodjonegoro. According to Brodjonegoro, President Widodo traveled through different provinces in Kalimantan in search of a good location for the new capital. Brodjonegoro said that while the region has been selected, the specific province in the Kalimantan region will be identified later.

Kalimantan is the name of the Indonesian part of Borneo, the world’s third-largest island, which is divided among three countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei.

The Indonesian government has mulled shifting to a new capital for decades. But overpopulation in Jakarta and climate change are now forcing the government’s hand.

Jakarta is not only Indonesia’s largest city, but it’s expected to be one of the largest megacities in the world by 2030, with an expected population of around 35.6 million.

And it is situated in a low-lying region prone to flooding from the sea as well as natural calamities like tsunamis. As global sea levels rise, as much as one-third of Jakarta is expected to be submerged by 2050, according to local researchers who spoke with the BBC.

Global warming has exacerbated the woes of Jakarta—a city that’s metastasized due to haphazard growth and mismanagement. To mitigate risks to Jakarta from the sea, Widodo announced last month the construction of a giant sea wall to protect the city. Still, Jakarta remains on precarious footing as its swampy low-land areas continue to sink at the rate of almost four inches per year, according to the BBC.

In addition to climate change, Jakarta has become a victim of its own population which has continued to multiply unchecked for decades. The biggest city in Indonesia, Jakarta, has some of the worst vehicular traffic in the world, ranking seventh in a traffic congestion index published by the TomTom navigation company. Population congestion is so severe in Jakarta that even its sidewalks are overcrowded with pedestrians, according to the South China Morning Post.

While shifting to a new capital will bring new infrastructure development and investments into the Indonesian economy, the move does have its detractors. Environmentalists are concerned that the pristine and untouched island of Borneo might get polluted. And ethnic Javanese politicians from Jakarta are worried that moving the capital will take away some of the political clout that they get from ruling the megacity.

Indonesia is not the only country to plan moving its capital in recent years. Like Indonesia, Egypt faces the challenge of overpopulation in its capital, Cairo, which is also its largest city. President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has pushed forward with an ambitious $58 billion plan to build a new capital outside Cairo. But the project has struggled to attract the requisite financing and investment. Presently, 20 percent of the total investment so far has come from abroad, including $4.5 billion from China, according to Reuters.

Indonesia, like Egypt, may face difficulty in financing the new capital project. If it does, we could see Indonesia turn to China and its Belt and Road Initiative for help building its new capital.

Urooj Tarar covers South Asia and pivot states for Globely News. She previously worked for the English-language edition of Daily Pakistan.

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