Indonesia is moving its capital 800 miles away from sinking Jakarta but critics see red

Amrutha Pagad
Amrutha PagadMay 18, 2023 | 13:14

Indonesia is moving its capital 800 miles away from sinking Jakarta but critics see red

Traffic congestion in Jakarta, Indonesia. Representative Photo: Getty Images

Indonesia's capital city Jakarta is sinking, literally. Every year, the megapolis sinks about six centimetres. The problem is exacerbated by the rising Java Sea due to climate change. Not just that Jakarta is sinking, but the capital city is also highly polluted, overpopulated, risks running out of water, and is prone to earthquakes. And so, the Indonesian government is planning to shift the capital city altogether to another area called Borneo. 


Indonesia is planning to inaugurate the new capital city - Nusantara - in Eastern Borneo on August 17, 2024, the country's Independence Day. 

How is Indonesia planning to shift its capital city?

An infographic of the current capital Jakarta and the new proposed capital in Borneo. Infograph: Getty Images

  • Indonesia President Joko Widodo or Jokowi's ambitious plan is set to cost at least $34 billion. 80% of this bill is expected to be footed by foreign investors, including some likely Indian infrastructure companies.
  • Nusantara is located in eastern Borneo, which is the world's third-largest island, sharing the land with Malaysia and Brunei. 
  • Widodo has promised that shifting away from Jakarta will create new jobs, increase local and national income, cut down the pressure on resources on Java Island, boost the competency of local workers, and also bring development to other parts of the country. 
  • The Indonesian government is planning to construct government buildings and housing, all from scratch to shift nearly 1.5 million civil servants to the city. 
  • Widodo's Presidency promises that this new capital will be a "sustainable forest city" which prioritises the environment. 

However, not everyone is convinced.

Ground zero of Nusantara in Borneo. Photo: AFP
  • Critics say that the new capital project will bring devastating eco-social impact to the bio-diverse region of Borneo or Kalimantan, as it is locally known. 
  • Borneo is home to 37 million hectares of tropical forest; among the world's largest remaining tropical forests. 
  • The region is also home to several Indigenous communities whose lives depend on the forests. It is also home to some endemic species such as the critically endangered Bornean orangutans and endangered proboscis monkeys. 
An orangutan in a cage at a rehabilitation centre in eastern Borneo. Photo: AFP
  • There are fears that the ambitious new project will displace the indigenous communities, and increase mining activities and deforestation, despite the promises made by the government. 
  • There have been reports that mangrove clearing in the region was done without taking any environmental clearances. 

Shifting capitals:

If we look at thousands of years of history, we have seen how capitals changed as kingdoms changed throughout time. And as modern cities become more and more uninhabitable, there is a need for expansion and greener pastures. Indonesia is not alone in this effort. There have been several countries, which made new capitals and some are planning on it.

  • Russia has switched between Moscow and St Petersburg as its capital in modern history. St Petersburg served as the capital city between 1712-1918 before the government reverted it to Moscow, its current capital. 
  • Pakistan decided to shift its capital from Karachi to Islamabad way back in 1959. But it was only in 1961 that construction began for the new capital and it took decades for it to be completed. 
  • Brazil constructed a centrally located city, Brasilia, to replace Rio de Janeiro as its capital in the 1950s. 
  • Nigeria moved its capital from Lagos, its largest city and economic hub, to Abuja in 1991. 
  • Egypt is developing its new administrative capital city on the east of congested Cairo. 
  • The South Korean government has long envisioned shifting its capital from Seoul to Sejong, which lies 125 km from the current capital city. 
Last updated: May 18, 2023 | 13:14
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