Indonesia set to move new capital to jungle-clad Borneo island as part of shift away from sinking city Jakarta

  • Indonesia will move its capital to the eastern edge of jungle-clad Borneo island, President Joko Widodo said Monday

  • The new capital city, which has not yet been named, will be in the middle of the vast archipelago nation and already has relatively complete infrastructure because it is near the cities of Balikpapan and Samarinda

  • Widodo said the relocation of the capital to a 180,000-hectare (444,780-acre) site will take up a decade and cost as much as 466 trillion rupiah (32.5 billion dollars),

Indonesia will move its capital to the eastern edge of jungle-clad Borneo island, President Joko Widodo said Monday, as the country shifts its political heart away from congested and sinking megalopolis Jakarta.

The new capital city, which has not yet been named, will be in the middle of the vast archipelago nation and already has relatively complete infrastructure because it is near the cities of Balikpapan and Samarinda, Widodo said.

The proposed location, near the regional cities of Balikpapan and Samarinda, is an area at "minimal" risk of natural disasters, where the government already owns some 180,000 hectares (445,000 acres) of land, he added.

 Indonesia set to move new capital to jungle-clad Borneo island as part of shift away from sinking city Jakarta

Indonesia President Joko Widodo gestures as he speaks during a press conference at the palace in Jakarta, Indonesia. AP

"The location is very strategic, it's in the centre of Indonesia and close to urban areas," Widodo said in a televised speech.

"The burden Jakarta is holding right now is too heavy as the centre of governance, business, finance, trade and services," he added.

The announcement ends months of speculation about whether Widodo would follow through on the long-mooted plan which was floated by the newly independent country's founding father Sukarno more than half a century ago. Indonesia’s founding father and first president, Sukarno, once planned to relocate the capital to Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan province.

Widodo said the relocation of the capital to a 180,000-hectare (444,780-acre) site will take up a decade and cost as much as 466 trillion rupiah (32.5 billion dollars), of which 19 percent will come from the state budget and the rest will be funded by cooperation between the government and business entities and by direct investment by state-run companies and the private sector.

He said the studies determined that the best site is between two districts, North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kertanegara, an area that has minimal risk of disasters such as floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, forest fires, volcanic eruptions or landslides in the seismically active nation.

Shifting from problem-plagued Jakarta would also transfer Indonesia's power base off Java island, where about half of the sprawling archipelago's 260 million people live.

"Moving the capital off to Java is a gesture that aims to solidify unity," said Jakarta-based political risk analyst Kevin O'Rourke told AFP.

"Jakarta will continue to be a megacity, as a centre for finance and commerce, for a few more decades, but ultimately it is at severe risk to climate change," he added.

Infrastructure improvement has been Widodo’s signature policy and helped him win a second term in April elections.

Decades of discussions about building a new capital on Borneo island moved forward in April when Widodo approved a general relocation plan. He appealed for support for the move in an annual national address on the eve of Indonesia’s independence day on 16 August.

A bill for the proposed move will now be presented to parliament, Widodo said.

The Guardian reports that if parliament approves the bill, construction on the new capital would begin next year on a plot of 40,000 hectares. By around 2024, the government expects to start moving some of its 1.5 million civil servants to the new bureaucratic centre.

Orangutans, mining

Known as Kalimantan, Indonesia's section of Borneo, the island it shares with Malaysia and Brunei, is home to major mining activities as well as rainforests, and is one of the few places on Earth with orangutans in their natural habitat.

Environmentalists expressed concerns the capital city move could threaten endangered species.

"The government must make sure that the new capital is not built-in conservation or protected area," said Greenpeace Indonesia campaigner Jasmine Putri.

The region has also been blanketed in choking haze from annual forest fires that ravage vast swathes of land.

"That makes Kalimantan unfit as a candidate for a new capital city," said Jakarta-based urban planning expert Nirwono Joga to AFP.

"And the move won't necessarily free Jakarta of problems like flooding, traffic jams and rapid urbanisation," he added.

Jakarta, the sinking capital

Concerns have soared over the future of Jakarta, a city nicknamed "the Big Durian" after the pungent, spiky fruit that deeply divides fans and detractors.

Built on swampland, the city is one of the fastest-sinking cities on earth, with experts warning that one-third of it could be submerged by 2050 if current rates continue. The problem is largely linked to excessive groundwater extraction.

According to Bloomberg, two-fifths of Jakarta lies below sea level and parts are dropping at a rate of 20 centimetres (8 inches) a year. That’s mostly down to the constant drawing up of well water from its swampy foundations.

But the city of 10 million, a number that bloats to about 30 million with surrounding satellite cities, is also plagued by a host of other ills, from eye-watering traffic jams and pollution to the risk of earthquakes and floods.

Indonesia is not the first Southeast Asian country to move its capital.

Myanmar and Malaysia have both moved their seat of government. Elsewhere in the world, Brazil, Pakistan and Nigeria are among the nations that have also shifted their capital cities.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Aug 27, 2019 09:20:51 IST