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.


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 ed uncorrected for so long that now there might not be any turning back!


Jakarta being called as “Sinking City”


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?’


North Jakarta is predicted to be submerged up to 95% by the end of 2050. North Jakarta already has sunk 2.5 meters in the last ten years and continues to sink by nearly 25 centimeters per year in different areas. This is more than double the global average for coastal large cities. It is subsiding at a rate of 1-15 cm per year, with nearly half of the city immersed underwater.


The government seems to have given up, indicated by their plans to shift the capital to East Kalimantan. Government reasons for this are 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.


How are man made decisions responsible for sinking Jakarta


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. Some of the more reasons why Jakarta is the world’s fastest sinking city:


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.


People are being forced to pump the water from aquifers because piped water seems to be unreliable, scarce, and expensive. Excessive groundwater utilization did cause the ground above it to sink, resulting in subsidence, an occurrence in which rock and sediment pile on top of one another. According to the report, the Jakarta government does not really publish the data on groundwater consumption. Basuki Tjajaja Purnama, the governor, stated in 2014 that illegal underground water use and now it has reached alarming proportions.


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.


Subsidence has gotten worse as a result of economic development. Subsidence caused by groundwater extraction has a larger effect when populations grow in low-lying regions. From 1990 to the present, Indonesia’s population has increased by 35%.


Ineffective planning is also the main reason behind the sinking. According to a media report, economic development has exacerbated the effects of subsidence. Subsidence has a larger effect when communities are concentrated near low-lying regions, owing primarily to groundwater extraction. According to the report, the number of people living in flood-prone areas in Indonesia in 2010 was 47.2 million, making it one of the world’s highest and higher 35% since 1990. 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.


The climatic changes also cause a rise in sea levels which can have an impact on coastal cities. According to the report, rising sea levels are caused by thermal expansion (water expanding due to extra heat) as well as melting polar ice. Experts recommend reintroducing mangroves and revitalising reservoirs that were once a part of old Jakarta. All of the issues, when combined, amplify the effects. As the urban population grows, so does the demand for water, and climate change will make supply more variable. This will significantly raise groundwater exploitation even more.


The Plan to Save the World’s Fastest Sinking City


Most of the world’s coastal regions are in jeopardy. Neither has a plan as far-reaching as Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital. In the long term, a combination of groundwater management systems used by many major cities, improved water storage capacity of embankment dams and weirs in the watershed as suggested above, more effective water infrastructure to stop the leak, as well as green policies including such rainwater harvesting as well as greywater recycling, would then limit and slow ground subsidence in Jakarta.


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.

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