Indonesian capital Jakarta is sinking, but why?

Environment Contributor
Indonesian capital Jakarta
© Warrengoldswain |

Jakarta, the Indonesian capital city is home to 11 million people. But that is not its entire recognition, it is also known as one of the fastest sinking cities in the world. Researchers say parts of this megacity can entirely submerge by the year 2050.

Being one of the most densely populated cities, Jakarta is disappearing into the sea. Especially the northern part of the city or North Jakarta has sunk 2.5 m in the last decade. Even now, it continues to sink by 25 cm a year in the coastal regions. According to geoscientists and hydrologists, Jakarta is sinking by an average of 1 to 16 cm a year. Presently, almost half of the city now is below sea level.

The rest of Jakarta is facing its odds too but at a slower rate. The reports say that in West Jakarta, the ground is sinking about 15 cm annually. Annually 10 cm, 2 cm, and 1 cm in East, Central, and South Jakarta. Cracks often occur on the buildings and roads of these areas. The impact is immediately apparent in North of Jakarta.

“The potential for Jakarta to be submerged isn’t a laughing matter,” sadly says Heri Andreas. He has studied Jakarta’s land subsidence for the past 20 years at the Bandung Institute of Technology.

Why is the Indonesian capital Jakarta sinking?

The city sits on a swampy marshland, the Java sea is lapping on the north coastal region. Moreover, 13 rivers have drainage basins in this area. Hence, flooding is a frequent deal in the Indonesian capital. But it is not only the freak floods causing the damage. There is something more.

Severe groundwater exploitation

Piped water is sporadically available in Jakarta. Only the southern part of the city gets this facility. Therefore, the local people have no choice but to get water from the groundwater storage. There are a lot of handpumps and electrical pumps to pump water from the aquifers. Here lies the problem. The excessive use of groundwater results in the sinking of the land above. The land sinks and leads to land subsidence. That clog the ways to reach rainwater to the groundwater storage. Moreover, urbanization causes concrete surfaces and roads. This is also a reason why rainwater cannot reach the underground aquifers. Unchecked urbanization without proper groundwater recharge is now facing these devastating effects.

Climate change

Global warming is one of the reasons that can be blamed for this sinking. Coastal cities like Jakarta are affected due to rising sea levels. The sea-level rises because of thermal expansion (the water increasing and expanding due to severe heat) and the melting of polar ice.

Curse of colonialism on the Indonesian capital Jakarta

In the 16th century, the Dutch conquered the old port city of Jayakarta and built their administrative city Batavia there. Like all Dutch cities, Batavia was built with numerous canals. These canals functioned as blue spaces. This means the places where a social activity has an edge condition. Moreover, it is coastal and urban in context. The canals had another function, to drain the sewage. However, in the 17th century, the canals started clogging due to heavy silts and heavier rainfall. The clean water became dirty and stagnant.

Hence, waterborne diseases prevailed. In the year 1700, the death rates became so high that the northern part of the city was called a ‘graveyard’. But, ironically the Dutch administration refused to replace the canal system with a healthier alternative. Instead, they started to build their homes in the south of the city. Only from the mid-1800, the administration decided to help the native people to get water. Hence, the pumping of groundwater began.

In the year 1870, a spider web of pipes was built in the southern European neighborhood. The native population continued to use the untreated groundwater.

Even the Dutch left Jakarta in the year 1949, left the inundating water crisis for the native people.

Presently, the crisis is so profound that the Indonesian government is planning to replace the capital from Jakarta to Borneo. Though several solutions are there insight.

Authorities are expecting that after building the Great Garuda, a 32 km outer sea wall with 17 artificial islands will help to rescue the sinking city. But, that is yet to be built. Frankly, Jakarta needs alternative sources of water to stop the inundation of the city. If it is not done within the next 5 years, who knows what is in the fate of this Indonesian capital.