Indonesia’s Capital Move Raises Hopes, Concerns

Official’s cite Jakarta’s air-quality ratings, which are some of the worst in the world, as part of the reason for the move. (Good Free Photos)

Official’s cite Jakarta’s air-quality ratings, which are some of the worst in the world, as part of the reason for the move. (Good Free Photos)

Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced that the country’s capital would move at the end of August from Jakarta to East Kalimantan, a sparsely-populated part of the island of Borneo. The move comes after years of speculation and concerns about the future of Jakarta as it gradually sinks into the sea. The project is one of the most expensive and expansive that the Indonesian government has ever undertaken, as more than one million people have to be relocated.

“The government had conducted an in-depth study, especially in the last three years as part of the decision-making process,” Widodo announced on Twitter. Complaints about the capital’s current location have been rolling in for years. Jakarta is one of the world’s most populous cities, and it is one of the most congested. Congestion and traffic cost the Indonesian economy $6.8 billion per year, according to Bambanf Brojonegoro, Indonesia’s planning minister. Jakarta came in 12th on the list of Business Insider’s cities with the longest commutes, at 42.1 minutes in 2015. 

Jakarta has one of the worst air-quality ratings of the region. It is also sinking due to well-drilling and construction on unstable ground. The UN projects that half of the city will be underwater by 2050. The government of Indonesia claims the move is an attempt to ease the burdens on both the civil service and Jakarta itself. 

The relocation announcement has prompted responses from critics. "[There is already] some infrastructure and existing cities [near the planned site]," says Johannes Widodo, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore's School of Design and Environment. The proposed capital site is currently home to palm oil plantations and forest, and the cost of building a whole new city from scratch—estimated to be more than $32 billion—draws criticism from some who say that the money could be better spent elsewhere.

Environmentalists also oppose the plan, voicing concerns about maintaining Borneo’s lush jungle and the vital habitat it provides for endangered animals, such as orangutans.

The project is "going to attract massive migration and if people are moving in it's unavoidable they would need houses, and you need timber for construction... so it's possible that logging would get worse," said Irwan Gunawan, the World Wildlife Fund director for Kalimantan.

The government counters the environmentalists’ concern by claiming that at least 50 percent of the planned city will be green spaces, a concept that Brodjonegoro has called a “forest city.” 

A successful relocation of the capital city could challenge other nations’ and organizations’ presence in Jakarta. Buildings such as foreign embassies and the Office of the ASEAN Secretariat would have to move from Jakarta to the new capital. The relocation will take many years to complete—the government estimates that the move will start in 2024.