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Indonesia Plans to Build a New Capital on Borneo

On Monday, Joko Widodo, president of Indonesia, announced the nation’s central government’s new location

Vehicles on a Toll road in Jakarta. (Agung Fatma Putra/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
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Jakarta is the fastest sinking city in the world, dropping about 2 inches per year. Half of the city, located on the island of Java, is already below sea level and it's estimated almost all of Northern Jakarta will be submerged in water by 2050 without major intervention.

The city, which has a population of about 10 million amid an urban sprawl of about 30 million people, also faces major congestion and environmental concerns. That’s why Joko Widodo, president of Indonesia, announced on Monday that the nation’s central government was leaving the city of Jakarta.

According to Merrit Kennedy at NPR, a new capital city, which has yet to be named, will be built on the less-populated island of Borneo. “The location is very strategic – it’s in the center of Indonesia and close to urban areas,” Widodo said in a televised speech, as Kate Lyons at The Guardian reports. “The burden Jakarta is holding right now is too heavy as the center of governance, business, finance, trade and services.”

The government plans to build the new city in the province of East Kalimantan where Indonesia already owns about 440,000 acres near the cities of Balikpapan and Samarinda.

“The government has conducted in-depth studies and we have intensified the studies in the past three years,” Widodo said. “The result of those studies shows that the most ideal location for the new capital is part of North Penajam Paser Regency and part of Kutai Kartanegara Regency in East Kalimantan.”

The move is not a done deal, Rob Picheta at CNN reports. The Indonesian parliament still needs to ratify the plan.

In total, the project is projected to top $33 billion. Of that, about 19 percent will be paid for by the state with the rest coming from public-private and private investments. The government says it is looking to begin construction in 2021, and will be ready for federal employees to begin moving to the capital in 2024 at the end of the Widodo’s second term.

For decades, past presidents have floated moving Indonesia’s government elsewhere, but there had not been much movement on the project. In April, the conversation got serious at a cabinet meeting. This week’s announcement of a proposed new location finalized the plan.

Jakarta was first established by Dutch traders in a swampy area of coast. Today, the city’s massive population extracts so much water that the city is sinking down into the muck.

Indonesia is betting that the move will take some pressure off the metro area by reducing the population and associated traffic by about 1.5 million people. “Jakarta will remain as the priority in development and will continue to be developed as a business city, financial city, trade center and service center on a regional and global scale,” Widodo said.

Borneo, an island that Indonesia shares with Malaysia and Brunei, is a biodiversity hotspot, and the last major refuge of orangutans. Critics to the proposed move are concerned about potential environmental impacts a new city would introduce. “We will not disturb any existing protected forest, instead we will rehabilitate it. Initially, we need 40,000 hectares of land, and it is expandable to 180,000,” planning minister Bambang Brodjonegoro said, per the South China Morning Post.

While building an entire city from the ground up may sound a little drastic, established government bureaucracy do move. AFP reports that Myanmar and Malaysia have both moved their seats of government in the last 20 years. Nigeria moved its government from Lagos to the capital territory of Abuja in 1991. Brazil also moved its capital from Rio de Janeiro to the planned city of Brasilia, and Pakistan established its capital of Islamabad both in the 1960s. Egypt is currently working on an unnamed capital territory in hopes of moving the government out of Cairo. Even South Korea came up with a plan to move the national government out of congested Seoul, constructing a planned city called Sejong 75 miles to the south. A court ruling, however, blocked the entire government from moving there, and Sejong is now home to about half the nation’s ministries.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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