Indonesia Plans to Save Jakarta from a Watery Demise

4 September 2019 Mervyn Piesse, Research Manager, Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme


The Indonesian Government is planning to spend 571 trillion rupiah ($60 billion) on urban regeneration in Jakarta. Despite the plan to build a new capital in East Kalimantan, Jakarta is expected to continue to be the financial capital of the country. Bambang Brodjonegoro, the Minister of National Development Planning, said that ‘Jakarta is the centre of everything in Indonesia. What we are moving out of is the centre of administration, but finance, businesses and trades will stay.’

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has also stated that ‘after the capital is relocated, Jakarta is still the priority for development. This city will continue to be built, at regional and global scale, as the city of business, finance, trade, and services. We are still going to use the 571 trillion rupiah budget for urban regeneration. We have discussed the technicalities, and we are ready to execute.’


Jakarta is one of the largest cities in South-East Asia; more than ten million people live within its boundaries and at least another 20 million live within the greater Jakarta area. Jakarta could possibly become the world’s most populous city by 2030, which would only serve to exacerbate its problems. Brodjonegoro added that ‘people assume Jakarta is doing fine. Jakarta is not doing fine at all.’

Water is a factor in the decision to relocate the capital. About 60 per cent of the Indonesian population lives on Java, but the island has less than ten per cent of the country’s water. Kalimantan, on the other hand, has six per cent of the population and 30 per cent of the country’s water. Even with that imbalance, Jakarta does not experience water scarcity, but getting access to clean water is difficult for a large number of the city’s residents. Currently, only 60 per cent of the people living in the city have access to piped water.

Those without access to the formal water supply often source water from deep wells, many of which are illegally sunk and not regulated. The overuse of groundwater is a significant driver of land subsidence, which is causing the city to sink at an average of seven centimetres per year. If current trends continue, it is possible that about one-third of the city will be submerged by 2050.

A series of man-made islets and giant seawalls, which would be arranged in a stylised form of the Garuda (a legendary bird in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain mythology and the main part of the Indonesian national emblem) were proposed to counteract subsidence. That project was cancelled in 2017 without explanation, but it was plagued by political problems. It was associated with bribery and corruption, with at least one city councillor arrested for allegedly accepting a bribe from one of the developers of the project. It was also widely seen as an expensive development for wealthy Jakartans that would do little to rectify the subsidence problem.

Undeterred, however, the Public Works and Housing Ministry continues to develop plans for a new seawall. The National Capital Integrated Coastal Development (NCICD) project, which is supported by the Netherlands and South Korea, has gone through several iterations since it began in 2008. The current seawall is expected to cost 154 trillion rupiah ($16 billion) and will include 2,000 hectares of reclaimed land, which could be sold for commercial use to offset some of the cost of the project. The twenty-kilometre-long outer sea wall could function as a toll road which, it is claimed, will help to reduce traffic congestion in the city.

If the new capital is built, it is estimated that about 180,000 government workers and thousands of military and police personnel will move out of Jakarta to East Kalimantan. If their families move with them, it is possible that about 800,000 people will leave Jakarta. The relocation of those people is not going to significantly improve the strain that the 30 million people living in greater Jakarta put on water sources.

Ensuring that the residents of Jakarta have access to clean, piped water will help to relieve pressure on groundwater. About 90 per cent of Jakarta’s tap water comes from outside the city, with 80 per cent of it sourced from the Jatiluhur Dam. There are 13 rivers that flow through the city and it was hoped that water could be drawn from them, treated and distributed through the metropolitan water supply. Due to the level of pollution in those rivers, however, it was determined that would prove uneconomical.

Desalination has been proposed as an alternative water source for Jakarta, but it is likely to be prohibitively expensive. Wastewater recycling is also being touted as an option, but given that only five per cent of the city area is serviced by wastewater infrastructure that will require time and considerable investment.

The NCICD project might provide time for authorities to develop alternative water sources and reduce groundwater extraction rates. Given the sheer scale of the water supply problem, however, more time will not be sufficient to prevent Jakarta from sinking beneath the waves. Unless action is taken to reduce groundwater extraction, the city will remain imperilled.

Any opinions or views expressed in this paper are those of the individual author, unless stated to be those of Future Directions International.

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