How man-made decisions made Jakarta the fastest Sinking City in the world

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March 21st, 2021

Jakarta, a megacity of 30 million people, is the fastest sinking city in the world. At this rate (25cm/year), major parts of the megacity could be completely underwater by 2050.


By Jaideep Singh Mann


Jakarta, where I have spent half an eventful decade, and a city that is quite close to my heart, is the fastest sinking city in the world. During many of my amateur photography expeditions, I often witnessed locations where the sea was up to the neck of the city, in a bid to cross over the flimsy walls guarding the Jakartans. North Jakarta has sunk 2.5m in the last 10 years, more than double the global average of similar megacities.


What would break anyone’s heart who loves this city, is that the reasons leading to this catastrophe are completely man-made. The wrong decisions and policies have been left uncorrected for so long that now there might not be any turning back!


Swampy land, the Java Sea, and 13 rivers running through it make Jakarta prone to flooding, and it has become an annual event in recent years. Flooding alone could be tackled by mankind in some ways. But, the question is ‘Can this massive city, which is literally disappearing into the ground, be saved?’ 


The government seems to have given up, indicated by their plans to shift the capital to East Kalimantan. Government reasons that this to promote Kalimantan as a strategic location that is almost four times bigger than Java, but accounts for less than a tenth of the GDP. In comparison, Java is home to 60% of the country’s population and more than 50% of its GDP.


The real reason might be that its current capital is sinking, and the administration might not be in a position to do anything to save their city from the water levels that rise significantly with every passing year.


As per a report in Wired, Twenty kilometers of sea walls have been thrown up around Jakarta Bay in the past three years, along with many more reinforcements along river banks, the first phase of a desperate attempt to fortify the city’s waterlogged northern districts. In places along the coastline, the ground has subsided by four meters over the last few decades, meaning that the concrete barricades are the only thing preventing whole communities from being engulfed by the sea.


But what led to this present-day death warrant for Jakarta is quite mind-boggling. The reasons seem to stem from situations that were completely man-made and were directed at short-term gains by the respective authorities during their reigns.


One theory quite logically traces the roots of this problem to the Dutch rule in the 1600s. They designed the capital city (Batavia) and its public utility system to segregate the population. That segregation resulted in a skewed drinking water piping system that excluded most indigenous citizens. This forced them to find other ways to get water, the easiest of which was to pump it out of the ground.


Pumping out the groundwater has quite literally lowered the city’s foundations, causing widespread subsidence. Some areas in the north have sunk four meters over the past two decades, putting them so far below the level of the sea that there is nowhere for the water to drain out.


Watch the video for the complete story:



The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect WorldRef’s views, opinions, or policies.