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Jakarta—a horrifying vision of climate catastrophe

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Tens of millions of ordinary people face life in a polluted, flooded, sinking city, reports Sarah Bates
Issue 2678
Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, is sinking
Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, is sinking (Pic: Public Domain)

Jakarta is a capital city that is literally sinking. Under the weight of pollution and rising sea levels, Indonesia’s government has decided to simply pack up and move elsewhere.

They, along with 1.5 million government workers, will soon be headed for the island of Borneo.

The rest of Jakarta’s 30 million residents will be abandoned to live in a hugely polluted, impoverished and sinking city.

It’s a horrifying illustration of how our rulers want to preserve “business as usual” while they leave ordinary people to suffer the reality of climate crisis.

Jakarta is sinking—in some areas by up to 20 centimetres a year—because not enough people have access to clean drinking water.

The city’s 13 rivers are highly polluted, and it doesn’t have the infrastructure to connect everyone’s houses to clean water lines.

That means many people rely on “groundwater tapping”—digging wells to access clean water underground. So many, in fact, that the ground itself sinking.

On top of that, the city faces rising sea tides and unpredictable storms.

Some 40 percent of Jakarta is under sea level—and in a decade that number is set to rise to 80 percent.

None of this looks as if it will be solved any time soon.

Much of these problems are the result of the climate crisis. The blame for this lies largely with capitalist countries in the West, which industrialised first and impoverished the Global South.

Now the solutions that all of these governments—both in the West and the Global South—advocate abandon ordinary people.

President Joko Widodo said Jakarta’s burden was “too heavy as the centre of governance, business, finance, trade and services”.


So the administrative functions of the Indonesian government are evacuated rather than ordinary people.

And the people who already live and work in the Kalimantan region of Borneo face eviction to make way for Indonesia’s new capital.

Life-threatening water shortages in India flow from climate catastrophe
Life-threatening water shortages in India flow from climate catastrophe
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Wiwit, a resident of East Kalimantan, met the news with horror.

“What will become of people like us? If they bulldoze our homes to build a new capital, where will we go?” she said.

Plus, this land isn’t going to come cheap. Much of the earmarked area is already owned by fossil fuel firms, palm oil businesses or logging companies.

Back in Jakarta, there are plans to build a new giant sea wall.

Its construction will mean the thousands of people living on and around the existing sea wall will be displaced.

Developers hope these shanty towns will be replaced by luxury homes on the new affluent coastline, where they say 1.5 million people can work and live.

But seawalls are not foolproof and flooding in Jakarta stems not just from rising tides, but from the rivers and canals that course the city bursting their banks.

But even worse than ineffectual, campaigners worry that the project will trap water from the polluted rivers that act as tributaries into Jakarta Bay.

Meanwhile plans for a water treatment centre—so that people don’t have to dig underground for clean water—won’t be completed until the end of this century.

Jakarta is a vision of a horrifying future where responses to the climate crisis are shaped by the needs and interests of the rich.

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