Jakarta: The Sinking City
Project info

Located on the northern shores of the island of Java, the Indonesian capital of Jakarta is on the front line of climate change.

In January of 2013, the city was engulfed by floods, which submerged over a third of the city, bringing the world’s tenth most populous city to a standstill.

With nearly 40% of the city lying beneath sea level, this deluge of water was not a rare event for the millions of Jakartans who live in this sprawling megalopolis that was originally built upon a swamp and confluence of 13 rivers.

It is the increasing frequency of these floods that is beginning to worry residents as they begin to battle these inundations year on year. The floods of 2013 were the latest in a line that have increased in frequency over the past 20 years, exacerbated by increased deforestation in water catchment areas upstream which has led to increased water runoff which eventually runs into the city.

As the most recent floods receded, over 20,000 people had been displaced, nearly 50 people had been killed and an estimated US$ 50 million worth of damages had been done. Hardest hit were the resident’s of the city’s numerous slums, which are found lining many of the city’s waterways.

Jakarta’s plight has been intensified by another factor that is seeing the city slowly disappear. The city is rapidly sinking.

As migrants continue to flood into the city, the urban area’s expanding population is increasing the demand for groundwater resources, which are taken from directly underneath residents’ feet. New shopping malls, apartments and office buildings not only contribute to excessive water extraction, but under their own weight, also push the Indonesian capital deeper into the ground, subsequently increasing the future risk of floods in surrounding areas.

The sinking is so severe that is occurring on average at 10cm per year however in certain parts of the city, the decline has been documented by as much as 30cm per year.

As early as in the 1800s, Jakarta’s vulnerability to flooding was identified by the Dutch who colonised Indonesia in the early 17th century. They built a series of canals and floodgates in the city that were used during times of flood to control the passage of water throughout the urban area.

Today, most of these canals and floodgates have fallen into disrepair. Neglected for decades, they fail to serve their original purpose to help save the city from the influx of the seasonal floods. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the capital’s rivers are now choked with pollution. Refuse and trash are disposed into the rivers by millions of local residents daily, leading to all of the canals and rivers within the city becoming regularly blocked.

It is estimated that up to a third of Jakarta could be underwater within the next 20-30 years. The solutions to Jakarta’s problems are complex and daunting. The city’s expanding economy and place on the global scale is threatened by both natural and man-made causes, all of which are contributing to the city’s challenges. Jakarta is not only a city on the front line of climate change but also one that is contributing to its own demise, as overpopulation and water pollution further inflate the city’s problems.