Who Is Actually Affected By Sinking Cities?

Updated: Nov 14

Let’s look into the case of Jakarta, sinking 6cm every year.

With the “Sinking Cities” phenomenon occurring in different parts of the world due to global warming and the general climate crisis we review the case of Jakarta, the Indonesian capital. In this example we see who is affected the most and why? While solutions are being implemented, some people are left out. How does this situation resemble the country’s colonial past?

In this story I'm trying to focus on the example of Jakarta as a space under the influence of many different forces: political, geographical, environmental and economic. These fragments of information hopefully will be useful in creating a better understanding of the situation, as well as awareness of the imminent threats posed to different communities around the globe. Considering the above, a demand is created, it is the need for collective action.

This example of sinking cities can place Jakarta in our focus having a central role in the environmental discussion, looking at it as any city that faces the challenges of today. Jakarta comes up first in the list of sinking cities. One factor that affects that is the climate crisis and the melting of the ice in the Arctic which results in the rise of the sea level all over the world. What makes Jakarta's case different though is the fact that people are getting most of their drinkable water through soil, a phenomena that has been happening for ages due to how the city was first constructed and organized due to colonial forces.

Preparing for this article I turned to academic papers to create a working framework and also I became informed through small documentations and testimonies of people in Jakarta talking about these issues. I urge you to follow the links down below as the most important aspect of this small piece is to empower the voices of the people living in these conditions.

Jakarta is a city that is sinking. It is sinking in two ways: literally -6 to 25 centimeters every year- and metaphorically by people flooding into it, trying to make a living and earn a better life by moving to Indonesia’s capital.This sinking in both ways will allow us to understand the mobility created towards Jakarta but also the dire need to flee away from it, even with ideas of creating and new capital in an effort to escape the situation that has been forming for centuries.

To start with the literal sinking. Firstly affected by the global climate crisis and more particularly the rising sea levels, the coastal areas of Jakarta have suffered from regular flooding resulting in houses being destroyed and the loss of human lives. In the sources cited below you can see for yourself people describing their situation, having to constantly rebuild their home or being afraid that they will have to abandon it at some point since scientific reports declare that Jakarta may sink by 2050. People who have to live in the coastal areas because they are dependent on activities like fishing to support themselves and their families are standing in agony wondering where they can move, declaring that they are trapped people.

Besides global warming, Jakarta is facing another serious problem that also aggravates the current condition and the probability of sinking grounds: the inevitable inability of the state to provide drinking water to half the population. Citizens resort to groundwater, which as a practice results in their city sinking. As they remove water from the ground in order to survive, the water cannot return naturally after rainfall due to asphalt on the streets. Thus, the ground becomes more and more unstable which results in their streets, and homes sinking.

The following image { https://youtu.be/M3M9KGPMkoo?t=634 } is important in order to grasp the situation as it is the only measure taken to protect coastal neighborhoods in Jakarta. A wall is built surrounding the city, but it is not completed yet. You can see it leaking at some spots and it restricts your ability to see the horizon. If you are able to look across the wall the sea surrounds the coast and it reaches the height of the houses. This is their living situation.

Another problem of the Indonesian capital is its rapid rate of urbanization. People are coming to Jakarta to find jobs and survive as they describe difficulties that they face in neighboring Regions. This influx of people tests the lacking infrastructure in Jakarta. It is reported as one of the most difficult cities to drive in due to all the traffic. But people keep moving to Jakarta even though they may even have houses elsewhere. A cab driver describes how he left his house and family to move to Jakarta where he could find a job.

These two factors, sinking and rapid urbanization have urged the government to move the capital in order to relieve the stress that Jakarta and its citizens are facing. The new capitol, at the center of Indonesia more specifically in East Kalimantan is near to the jungle and small communities that are “left behind in time”. An important question posed by one of residents of Kalimantan is if they are gonna be able to “catch up” and where will the space for them be in this new forming society.

People are preparing to leave Jakarta and move onto a clean slate, where the infrastructure will probably get better, where they can access water -a basic necessity- easily! A thought that occurs is who is left behind? Or even if everybody manages to move away from Jakarta how will they cope with this forced removal from their homes?

Once again we see that the repercussions are far more severe for people with fewer means, assets, and less money. It is as if history repeats itself. When Dutch imperialists arrived in Indonesia they created a particular societal structure based on actually segregating the city through canals, when at the same time they did not provide drinking water. While they were ruling over the residents of Jakarta -then named Batava- they created these canals according to Dutch architectural standards and moved somewhere else when they did not work anymore due to their bad maintenance. We understand how the colonial past of Jakarta has shaped today's social inequality. People's basic needs are at risk, more specifically water and housing is a daily angst.


  • Asia's Sinking Cities: Jakarta | Insight | Indonesia https://youtu.be/M3M9KGPMkoo

  • Land subsidence and sea level rise are sinking cities https://youtu.be/jpPJMOp_P3M

  • Why Jakarta is sinking https://youtu.be/Z9cJQN6lw3w

  • KOOY, M. and BAKKER, K., 2008. Technologies of Government: Constituting Subjectivities, Spaces, and Infrastructures in Colonial and Contemporary Jakarta. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, [online] 32(2), pp.375-391. Available at: <https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-2427.2008.00791.x> [Accessed 15 March 2022].

  • Kehoe, M., 2022. Dutch Batavia: Exposing the Hierarchy of the Dutch Colonial City - Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art. [online] Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art. Available at: <https://jhna.org/articles/dutch-batavia-exposing-hierarchy-dutch-colonial-city/> [Accessed 15 March 2022].

  • Mei Lin, M. and Hidayat, R., 2022. Jakarta, the fastest-sinking city in the world. [online] BBC News. Available at: <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-44636934> [Accessed 15 March 2022].


#Sinking_Cities #Global_warming #Jakarta #Indonesia #urbanization

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