Widodo confirms capital move to Borneo

Indonesian President Joko Widodo says the archipelago’s capital will move to an unnamed site in eastern Borneo as the government abandons congested, polluted, sinking Jakarta.

“As a large nation that has been independent for 74 years, Indonesia has never chosen its own capital,” Widodo said in a televised address. “The burden Jakarta is holding right now is too heavy as the centre of governance, business, finance, trade and services.

“The location is very strategic – it’s in the centre of Indonesia and close to urban areas.”

Rising sea levels have not helped but Jakarta is largely to blame for its environmental problems.

Jakarta has more than 10 million residents, according to the United Nations. An estimated 30 million live in the wider conurbation, making it one of the world’s most overpopulated urban regions.

Java, the island on which Jakarta is located, has about 60 per cent of Indonesia’s population of roughly 250 million while making up just 7 per cent of its territory.

The city’s growing population has extracted too much groundwater, meaning ground levels have fallen and many surface water supplies have become polluted.

The worst affected neighbourhoods are reportedly sinking by 10-20cm annually, one of the fastest rates in the world.

Almost half of Jakarta is now below sea level. 

Jakarta will continue to be Indonesia’s commercial and financial centre and the majority of its residents are expected to stay.

The cost of the move has been estimated at around 486 trillion rupiah (US$34 billion) and it is due to take around a decade to complete.

Indonesia’s state planning and development agency, Bappenas, has named the Kalimantan site partly because it was relatively free from earthquakes and volcanoes.

The Indonesian portion of Borneo, Kalimantan, is almost four times larger than Java but accounts for less than 10 per cent of Indonesia’s gross domestic product. Java is home to about 50 per cent of Indonesian economic activity. 

Its population density is 38 times lower than Java’s.

The selected area would be close to the cities of Balikpapan and Samarinda in a region mostly known for its beaches and rainforest, which is a vital habitat for the critically endangered orangutan.

The official plan is to build a smart, green city on state land near Balikpapan and Samarinda with promises of a positive environmental impact.

“We will not disturb any existing protected forest, instead we will rehabilitate it,” Indonesian planning minister Bambang Brodjonegoro told the media. 

Environmentalists say the plan may put further pressure on the orangutan population. 

“The government must make sure that the new capital is not built in a conservation or protected area,” Greenpeace Indonesia spokeswoman Jasmine Putri said. 


Jakarta is one of Asia’s least “liveable” cities. Picture credit: Wikimedia