New Delhi: Indonesia is moving its capital city from Jakarta to a site more than 1,000 kilometres away in the rainforests of Borneo Island. Work on the new capital began in mid-2022 after the Parliament approved the bill to relocate Indonesia’s capital from Jakarta last year in January.
The current Indonesian capital Jakarta, according to studies, is sinking at an alarming rate into the Java Sea due to the excessive extraction of groundwater and one-third of the city could be submerged by 2050.
President Joko Widodo first announced his plan in 2019, but the progress was delayed due to COVID-19.
He named the new city- Nusantara, a Javanese term for the Indonesian archipelago, which the government plans to inaugurate by next year on August 17 — Indonesia’s Independence day.
Indonesian officials say the new metropolis will be a “sustainable forest city” that puts the environment at the heart of the development and aims to be carbon-neutral by 2045.
Environmentalists and Indigenous communities have criticised the project, claiming that it degrades the environment, restricts the habitat of endangered creatures like orangutans, and displaces Indigenous people who depend on the land for their livelihoods.
Why is Indonesia shifting its capital?
Home to about 10 million people and more than 30 million residents living in its greater metropolitan area, the overpopulated Jakarta city has been described as the world’s most rapidly sinking city.
According to National Research and Innovation Agency, a quarter of its area will be completely submerged by 2050 if no urgent measures are taken. The main cause is uncontrolled groundwater extraction, but it has been exacerbated by the rising Java Sea due to climate change, AP reported.
Additional reasons for the relocation include heavily polluted air and groundwater, prone to earthquakes, frequent flooding, and clogged streets — which cost the economy around $4.5 billion each year, according to AP.
Widodo has said he envisions the new capital as a modern city where everybody can bike and walk between destinations that are close to one another.
The New Capital City
The new capital, which is twice the size of New York City, is touted to be a futuristic green city by the officials, centered on forests, parks and food production that utilizes renewable energy resources, “smart” waste management and green buildings.
Bambang Susantono, head of the Nusantara National Capital Authority, said that the new capital city will apply the “forest city” concept, with 65 per cent of the area being reforested, AP reported.
“We have to think beyond what is happening today and try to tackle (things) that are futuristic,” said Susantono.
According to the digital renderings shared by the government, the new capital is shown to be surrounded by forest, with people walking on tree-lined sidewalks and buildings with plant-covered rooftops surrounded by walking paths, ponds, clean creeks and lush forests.
The building architecture is inspired by modern urban towers combined with traditional Indonesian architecture: the presidential palace in the shape of a garuda — a mythical bird and the national symbol of Indonesia — and other buildings that give a stylistic nod to the traditional architecture used by Indigenous groups around the archipelago.
Though Indonesia’s minister for public works and housing, Basuki Hadimuljono, stated in February that the city’s infrastructure is 14 percent complete, the new capital authorities said that the final stages of the city will most likely not be completed until 2045, the nation’s 100th anniversary.
Concerns of environmentalists
The capital, according to environmentalists, will result in significant deforestation, threaten the habitat of endangered animals such as orangutans, and imperil the homes of Indigenous communities.
On the other hand, sceptics are concerned about the environmental effects of developing a massive 256,000-hectare (990-square-mile) metropolis in Borneo’s East Kalimantan region, which is home to orangutans, leopards, and a wide variety of other animals.
Forest Watch Indonesia, an Indonesian nongovernmental organization that monitors forestry issues, warned in a November 2022 report that most of the forested areas in the new capital are “production forests” meaning permits could be granted for forestry and extractive activities that would lead to further deforestation, AP reported.
The report said that until now there has been no certainty regarding the protection status of the remaining natural forests in the new capital city area.
Impact on indigenous communities