Researchers believe that the estimated time for when the whole of Jakarta will be under water is 2050.
Photo: michaelsyoma, Unsplash


Jakarta - A multimillion-dollar city built on swamps

It is the pumping of groundwater, together with the amount of land covered by concrete, that is one of the biggest factors in the sinking of the Indonesian capital Jakarta. Today, half of the inhabitants lack water in their homes, instead they get running water from groundwater pumps. To remedy the problem, the Indonesian government therefore proposes to move the capital to the Borneo Peninsula.

The soil under Indonesia's capital Jakarta can be likened to a wet sponge - the more water that is extracted, the more it is emptied, causing the soil to compress and collapse as the soil above sinks. In addition, the city is largely covered by concrete as a result of Jakarta's rapid economic development, population growth and expanded infrastructure. The amount of concrete in turn makes it difficult for rainwater to sink into the groundwater in the soil and replenish the aquifer layer. This means that the rain, which would normally have filled the stock of aquifers, is now not absorbed and generates more groundwater that can be pumped up to supply the inhabitants with water. Therefore, more pumps must be built to extract the groundwater that remains far down in the earth's aquifer. The increased amount of groundwater pumping contributes to the city sinking as the earth is compressed and collapses when the aquifers are emptied.

The colonial heritage 

To explain how the current water pump system in Jakarta developed, we must go back to the 1700th century when European powers colonized large parts of the world, including Indonesia. The Netherlands colonized the land around present-day Jakarta and in connection with this demolished the entire then city to build a new city. The new city was built with narrow terraced houses along a grid of canals, to much like Amsterdam. 

The route system in turn served as a tool to maintain segregation in the city due to the fact that few bridges were established between the different districts in order to control the population. Dutch and locals would live separately. 

After about a hundred years as a colony, infections began to spread through the city's canals and many residents became ill with diseases such as typhus and malaria. As a result of the spread of the disease, the Dutch colonizers moved to another part of the city. Once there, a water pumping system was built so that they would not have to use water from the now diseased canal in the city. Because pumps were only built in the part of the city where Europeans lived, large parts of the city did not have access to water in their homes, but had to fetch water from groundwater pumps on the streets. Segregation was now also expressed through who has access to clean running water in their house. 

This type of water segregation continued until 1949 when Indonesia was declared independent from the Netherlands. From 1950 to 2020, Jakarta's population went from just under 2 million to almost 11 million inhabitants, something that demanded more buildings and the city's expansion was a fact. The development led to larger parts of the city being covered by concrete, which means that rainwater does not reach the aquifers in the ground - which causes the city to sink. At the same time, the problem of water supply remains as not even half of those living in Jakarta have access to water in their homes. 

The future of Jakarta 

The estimated time for when the whole of Jakarta will be under water is in 2050 according to researchers. Several attempts have been made to build walls to protect the city from floods, but like the rest of the city, the walls are also falling. Researchers explain that Jakarta will continue to sink until the day the groundwater stops pumping, which feels remote when there is no other option for large sections of Jakarta's population, especially those who are already having the hardest time in society. 

It is mainly poor fishermen who live on the coast who are forced to rebuild their houses over and over again when they are affected by the rising water levels. At the same time, several cities around the world have faced the same challenges as Jakarta. An example is Tokyo, where in 1950 they managed to stop the city from sinking by supplying water via pipes to large parts of the homes in the city. Other cities that have managed to stop a similar development in the region are Shanghai, Taipei and Bangkok. 

To solve the problem of the declining city, the Indonesian government proposes to move the multimillion-dollar city of Jakarta to the nearby island of Borneo. The relocation of Jakarta, home to 10,5 million people, will affect the ecosystem and wildlife of Borneo, as well as the poorest people in Jakarta, is a reality.


Aquifer is an underground geological formation deep in the ground that stores free-flowing groundwater in such large quantities that groundwater can be extracted.

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