Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Indonesia "Working with Nature" in Moving Capital

By Henry Srebrnik, [Fredericton, NB] Daily Gleaner
Moving a country’s capital is not an easy decision. But it has been done.

Brazil relocated its capital from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia in 1960. Rio was crowded, government buildings were far apart and traffic was heavy. So the government decided to create a new city specifically developed to be the capital.  

Pakistan, too, built a new capital, and began moving from Karachi on the Arabian Sea inland to Islamabad in 1960. It was declared the capital three years later.

Lagos, on the Atlantic coast, was the capital city of Nigeria before Abuja, centrally located, was made the capital of the country in 1991.

In 1983, President Felix Houphouet-Boigny of Côte d’Ivoire decided that Abidjan wasn’t the best choice and moved the capital to Yamoussoukro.

Almaty was the capital of Kazakhstan when the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The government moved the capital 1,200 kilometres north to Astana in 1997. It was also renamed Nur-Sultan.

In Myanmar, Rangoon, the capital city, was replaced by Naypyida, almost 200 miles to the north, in 2005.

Now it’s Indonesia’s turn. Last August, Indonesian President Joko Widodo provided details on the location and cost of a new capital on the large island of Borneo. The current capital, Jakarta, on Java, is overcrowded and sinking.

The new capital will be located in Borneo’s East Kalimantan province, about 2,000 kilometres from Jakarta. The island of Borneo is split among three countries: Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia.

 “It is a strategic location at the center of Indonesia, close to a growing urban area,” Widodo has stated.

He said one reason for picking East Kalimantan is that it does not have a history of natural disasters. The relocation will cost $33 billion and start in 2024.

Proposals to move the capital to Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, had been considered for years. Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, was unable to move the new nation’s capital to Kalimantan, though he initiated the construction of the city of Palangkaraya in 1957 for that purpose.

Widodo, who was governor of Jakarta before winning the presidency in 2014, won re-election in 2019 in part because of his record of building major infrastructure projects.

Jakarta has a population of 10 million and three times that number if including nearby areas. It is located on Java, the island that accounts for 58 per cent of Indonesia’s gross domestic product and is home to about half of nation’s 260 million people.

Jakarta, polluted and crowded, has few parks or cultural monuments. The city’s traffic jams are horrendous, and it is prone to floods, volcanos and tsunamis.

Parts of Jakarta have been sinking more than five centimetres a year due to the overuse of groundwater, and 40 per cent of Jakarta is below sea level. 

Sea walls have had limited success in holding back the Java Sea and parts of the city are likely to be lost in coming decades. It is one of the world’s most vulnerable cities to rising sea levels caused by climate change.

Severe flooding in January saw at least 66 people die from heavy rain that began last New Year’s Eve.

However, environmental groups have criticized plans to move the capital out of concern for Borneo’s vast forests and endangered wildlife.

The architectural team which won the government-run competition to design the capital – Urban Plus architects-- insists its aim is to work with nature, not against it. 

Sofian Sibarani, the head of the firm, indicated that 70 per cent of the 2500 square kilometres will be green space, and will include an institute which will specialise in reforestation.

Indigenous people worry it could destroy their unique cultures.  “We know their ‘forest city’ plans but we don’t want them to plant trees -- we want them to protect the forest that is left here,” declared Syukran Amin, from the Paser tribe.

Planning specialist Rita Padawangi also worries about who the new capital is really being built for.  

“Why can’t the indigenous people be the advisors? They are the ones who are going to be most affected by this. Is it just going to be a gated community of elite civil servants coming from Jakarta?”

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