Is Jakarta climate change’s patient zero?
Patient zero: used to refer to the person identified as the first carrier of a communicable disease in an outbreak of related cases.
Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, isn’t well placed to survive any type of fast paced environmental change for a whole host of reasons. The land it sits on is swampy and sodden by nature, and it also sits next to the Java Sea, meaning that even slight changes in sea levels were always likely to cause huge problems. The city also has 13 rivers running through it.
Jakarta is poor, but not catastrophically so in the context of global poverty. Between 1999 and 2013 the Indonesian government successfully lifted more than 50% of its impoverished population out of poverty. The poverty rate across Indonesia, and Jakarta, was cut from 24% to 11.4% in 14 years which is quite an achievement, but that effort has hit the skids as poverty rates have stayed roughly the same for 5 years now.
Properties and infrastructure sinking into the sea certainly isn’t helping that effort. Whilst Jakarta is in a prime location for constant issues of flooding, things have been getting worse and worse recently, with experts saying the city is literally disappearing into the sea.
Heri Andreas, who has studied Jakarta's land subsidence for the past 20 years at the Bandung Institute of Technology, was quoted in a BBC article about the subject as saying "If we look at our models, by 2050 about 95% of North Jakarta will be submerged."
According to Andreas, North Jakarta has already sunk 2.5m in just 10 years and continues to sink at a rate of 25cm a year, twice the global average for coastal cities of a similar size. As a whole, the city is sinking at a rate of between 1 and 15cm per year with nearly half of the entire city now sitting below sea level.
As a shocking realisation of the situation, a number of abandoned buildings around the city are no longer fit for use. Large office buildings and factories now sit empty with almost the entire first floor filled with dirty stagnant water.
The land subsidence changes in the city are broadly explained by the lack of piped water. The piped water supply is unreliable and most extract water from deep underneath the city for drinking, washing and bathing. The problem with this extraction is that every time the water deep underground is removed it sinks the land further.
This, coupled with rapidly rising sea levels, is a recipe for disaster and one which could see the entirety of the northern area of Jakarta underwater within 32 years. It’s astonishing to imagine that due to human abuse of resources, developers continuing to build on unsuitable ground and climate change, that we could see a modern day Atlantis within our lifetimes, all created by human hand.
Regardless of your opinions' on the veracity of the science behind climate change, there is visible evidence of the consequences of humans abusing the environment they require for survival, and it looks very similar to one of the world’s most vibrant cities sinking into the sea before our eyes.