Indonesia's leader says sinking Jakarta needs giant sea wall

Photo: AFP

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.

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 10 centimeters (4 inches) a year.

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

The president said he's determined to push through key projects and reforms, even if potentially unpopular, noting that he'll be less constrained by domestic politics in his second and final five-year term. Widodo was reelected 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.

Widodo reiterated that wants to build a new capital, suggesting it should be outside Indonesia's main island of Java, where 57 percent of the country's nearly 270 million people are concentrated.

"We want to separate the capital, the center of government and Jakarta as a business and economic center," 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, Widodo said. "We need to make sure our capital is safe from disasters," he said, without naming the location for the new capital.

Jakarta 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.

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