Joko: Sinking Jakarta needs giant sea wall

Looking to the future: Joko smiling during his visit to the newly-revitalised 18th century Kali Besar Canal at the Old Town in Jakarta. — AP

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s president said in an interview that he wants to see the speedy construction of a giant sea wall around Jakarta to prevent the low-lying capital from sinking under the sea, lending renewed backing and a sense of urgency to a slow-moving and politically contested mega project.

President Joko Widodo and his government are up against a tight timetable, including a forecast by experts that at the current rate, one-third of Jakarta could be submerged by 2050.

The existential crisis facing the city is the culmination of decades of unfettered development, almost non-existent urban planning and misrule by city politicians who have served private interests over those of the public.

Lacking a comprehensive piped water network, industry and homeowners have tapped into the city’s aquifers, causing rapid subsidence in northern Jakarta, home to several million people.

In this area, the swampy ground has been sinking at an average of about 10cm a year.

Rising sea levels from a heated-up planet will compound the problem in decades to come.

Joko said on Friday that it was time to move ahead with the sea wall, a project the government first began to consider a decade ago.

“This huge project will need to be done quickly to prevent Jakarta from sinking under the sea,” he said in the interview at a humble restaurant serving spicy Indonesian dishes.

He said he was determined to push through key projects and reforms, even if potentially unpopular, noting that he would be less constrained by domestic politics in his second and final five-year term.

He was re-elected earlier this year.He also addressed other ambitious plans for Jakarta, a congested, polluted and sprawling metropolis of 10 million that swells to three times that number when counting those living in the larger metropolitan area.

Joko reiterated that he wanted to build a new capital, suggesting that it should be outside Indonesia’s main island of Java, where 57% of the country’s nearly 270 million people are concentrated.

“We want to separate the capital, the centre of government and Jakarta as a business and economic centre,” he said. “We don’t want all the money existing only in Java. We want it to be outside Java as well.”

Jakarta’s vulnerability to flooding and earthquakes is also a factor, he added.

“We need to make sure our capital is safe from disasters,” he said.

The threats facing Jakarta are mJakarta has been described as one of the world’s fastest sinking cities – a result of geographic misfortune and mismanagement.

The city sits on swampy ground, with 13 heavily polluted rivers running through it.

The main cause for the sinking is the over-extraction of groundwater. The weight of taller buildings being constructed in recent years further compresses the ground. — AP

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