Abandon Jakarta: Indonesia again mulls plan for new capital

The central business district skyline is seen during the dusk in Jakarta, Indonesia, Monday, April 29, 2019. Indonesia's decades-long discussion about building a new capital has inched forward after President Joko Widodo approved a long-term plan for the government to abandon overcrowded, sinking and polluted Jakarta. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia's decades-long discussion about building a new capital has inched forward after President Joko Widodo on Monday approved a long-term plan for the government to abandon overcrowded, sinking and polluted Jakarta.

Widodo decided at a special Cabinet meeting to move the capital outside of Indonesia's most populous island, Java, said Planning Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro. It was one of three options discussed. The other alternatives were moving to a location near Jakarta or staying put and relocating all government buildings to a special zone around the presidential palace.

The site for a possible new capital hasn't been announced, but Palangkaraya on the island of Borneo has often been rumored as the location. Brodjonegoro, however, said eastern Indonesia is favored.

"This is a big job, impossible to take just one year, it could take up to 10 years," he said.

Prone to flooding and rapidly sinking due to uncontrolled ground water extraction, Jakarta is the archetypical Asian mega-city creaking under the weight of its dysfunction. Only 4% of Jakarta's waste water is treated, according to the government, causing massive pollution to rivers and contaminating the ground water that supplies the city. Congestion is estimated to cost the economy $6.5 billion a year.

Before the Cabinet meeting, Widodo said other countries such as Malaysia, South Korea and Brazil set up new capitals as part of their development as nations.

"The idea to move the capital city appeared long ago," he said. "But it has never been decided or discussed in a planned and mature manner."

Improving inadequate infrastructure in the country of 260 million has been Widodo's signature policy and helped him win a second term in elections earlier this month.

Brodjonegoro said a new capital would require an area of 30,000 to 40,000 hectares (about 74,000 to 99,000 acres) and have a population of between 900,000 and 1.5 million.

Jakarta has a population of about 30 million in its greater metropolitan area.

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