Jakarta is sinking

When we think about the problematic effects of overusing water, desertification and salinization normally come to mind first, but Indonesia's capital is itself sinking along with its water table:
Wati Suka’s house in the Kamal Muara district of Jakarta is a barometer for an environmental crisis enveloping the Indonesian capital that an increasing number of its 10m residents are learning about first-hand.

“In the 1970s and ’80s we used to have to raise the house about 30cm every eight years or so because the land was sinking so much.”
And that's not all:
Subsidence is just one of several water-related crises Jakarta is facing that are combining to make severe flooding increasingly frequent. Unregulated population growth and associated construction are devouring crucial green spaces. Jakarta has less than half the undeveloped land called for in the city’s master plan.

Half a million squatters live along the city’s riverbanks and around its reservoirs, clogging them with 4,000 cubic metres of rubbish and human waste a day.

Then there are the tidal surges that inundate northern neighbourhoods a couple of times a month, and climate change, which is causing sea levels to rise and more frequent extreme weather events.
In a way this is the classic environmental issue - creeping long-term deterioration coupled with insufficient will to pay the high short-term costs needed to deal with it (several billion dollars, in this case). One question to ponder is whether blame should fall on lack of leadership, lack of collective political will (particularly in a vibrant democracy like Indonesia), or both.

Jared Diamond had a memorable take on this in Collapse, where he argued that "society's elites won't use their resources and energy to address fundamental issues to the extent to which they can insulate themselves from it." At least in this case the incentives are favorably aligned:
The need to “act decisively” sank in after a quarter of the city – affecting 2.6m residents, including Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the president, – was hit by a 3m-deep flood in early 2007.


Mr Hahm says that unless Mr Budi’s “decisive action” is realised, the presidential palace, which is 5.5km from the sea, “will become a seafront property” when the next surge occurs in 2025.

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