Indonesia’s Capital Relocation Plan Poses an Alarming Threat to its People and the Environment
BY CHLOE "FIO" WIBAWA
IMAGE COURTESY OF NEXTZEN
Indonesia’s plan to begin moving its capital city 1000 miles away from Jakarta by 2024 is dangerous because of the potential social, economic and environmental problems that will likely arise from it.
The government is relocating the capital because Jakarta is sinking at an alarming rate of 11 inches a year, with 40% of the city already underwater. The new capital, Nusantara, is located in East Kalimantan, around 1,250 miles northeast of Jakarta, and is home to 900,000 people.
After Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced the move in 2019, Indonesia’s Parliament passed the Capital City bill into law in January 2022, allowing construction to begin. The government reserved 445,000 acres of forested land to begin building the new city. Although city planners envision Nusantara as an environmental utopia, moving the capital is likely to pose detrimental threats to the environment.
Kalimantan is home to endangered orangutans and approximately 7 million acres of protected forest. East Kalimantan lost 1.5 million acres of forest to oil palm planting, logging, mining, and other activities in 2018 – a 42% increase in deforestation from the previous year, Bloomberg reported in 2019.
East Kalimantan will likely face more deforestation as the government builds Nusantara’s infrastructure.
In a 2019 Bloomberg interview, University of Sydney lecturer Peter Matous warned, “New roads cutting through forest areas break the continuity of the forest cover and typically more slash and burn deforestation happens in their vicinity.” This would cause more forest fires, especially as Indonesia has seen increased climate change-related wildfires.
Most of the land reserved for Nusantara’s construction is peatland, a carbon-rich wetland that consists of dead vegetation often burned and drained to make space for oil palm plantations. Destroying East Kalimantan’s forests to construct the new capital could potentially release 48 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere, which is equivalent to emissions released by 9.3 million vehicles in a year, the World Resources Institute reported in 2019.
The destruction of forests will impact not only its wildlife, but also the local and indigenous communities that often rely on these lands for their livelihoods.
The Dayak people, Kalimantan’s indigenous population, have faced a long history of challenges to their land rights, both from the government and natural resource extraction corporations. In 2020, the Forest People’s Programme’s estimates put at least 300,000 people at risk of displacement due to capital relocation.
Land disputes can lead to a rise in civil conflicts in the area. This is especially pertinent because nearly 1.5 million civil servants including teachers, nurses and agricultural extension workers, will be migrating to East Kalimantan – among many other migrants who will be attracted by the new job prospects.
“This huge number of migrants has the potential to disturb local economies and markets, especially in terms of housing and food,” Wasisto Jati, a researcher at the National Research and Innovation Agency, said in his article published this year. “If the government does not accommodate the needs of locals, this will spark new conflicts.”
The government’s lack of response to these potential issues with its plan has led experts to believe that Indonesia is more concerned with the optics of its idealistic and superficial model, such as building 100% “eco-friendly” high rises in the new city, than its feasibility.
Approximately 59% of the 170 experts interviewed in a survey were not confident that Nusantara would materialize because of uncertainties in funding and management, Reuters reported based on data from the Indonesian Centre for Strategic and International Studies released this year.
This result echoes a greater concern influenced by Japanese conglomerate Softbank Group’s exit this year as a major investor in the project after planning to invest $40 billion, citing timely return-on-investment issues. This has made other possible investors worried about joining the project.
The Widodo administration announced that it would be offering 30-year tax breaks for companies willing to invest in Nusantara, Reuters reported last month.
However, Indonesia must acknowledge these potential issues before investors and the public can be confident in the project. The government must make greater efforts to apply input from local and indigenous communities in Kalimantan, nongovernmental organizations, scholars and researchers in its policies and plans for the new capital.
Only then can Nusantara be seen as a potential success and not a looming threat to Indonesia.