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Indonesia Wants to Build a $40bn Bird-Shaped Wall to Save Jakarta From the Sea

A fantastically ambitious plan has been put forth to save Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, from the sea.

While this year's rainy reason brought misery to many Saigoneers, the city's flooding problems have nothing on those facing Jakarta. The Guardian reports on an incredible plan to save the sprawling metropolis from the waters of Jakarta Bay.

According to the news source, the city's northern areas are sinking at an estimated rate of 25 centimeters per year. In comparison, Venice, the famously waterlogged Italian city, is only subsiding at 2 millimeters per year. Roughly 4 million Jakarta residents now live up to four meters below sea level.

This problem can be traced to Jakarta's explosive growth, with a population of 30 million people living in its greater region. Groundwater is extracted to build the foundations for apartment blocks and skyscrapers, while residents largely rely on wells for their daily water supply, according to The Guardian. 

As a result, the Indonesian megacity is sinking faster than any other urban area in the world, the impact of which was highlighted by flooding in 2007 that killed dozens and displaced almost 350,000 people.

Plans have been proposed to pipe in water instead of extracting it from the ground, but such efforts have gone nowhere. Meanwhile, a far more ambitious plan has been laid out: the Giant Sea Wall and Great Garuda project. Under this proposal, which would cost as much as US$40 billion, an enormous dike stretching 25 miles would be built across Jakarta Bay, which would in turn create a huge lagoon. Then, an entirely new city would be built on the reclaimed land.

Known as the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development (NCICD) program, the project has been developed with Dutch aid and is backed by Indonesian President and former Governor of Jakarta Joko Widodo. 

While the cost of this project is eye-watering, the most startling aspect is its shape: the new waterfront city would spread out from the proposed seawall in the shape of a garuda, the mythical Hindu bird that serves as Indonesia's national symbol.

The renderings bring to mind Dubai's artificial islands, while the developers also looked to Singapore's Sentosa for inspiration, The Guardian reports. Proponents of the plan claim it is the only way to prevent future catastrophic floods from wreaking havoc on the city.

However, there is strong opposition to the project as well. Critics include scientists, land activists and local residents, who believe the idea is unnecessary and would be an environmental and social calamity.

The Save the Jakarta Bay Coalition, for example, sent a letter to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte explaining their belief that the NCICD would not work.

"We therefore stress that, if your government and the Indonesian government insist on building the NCICD, tens of thousands of people connected to small-scale fisheries will lose their livelohood," the letter reads.

Meanwhile JanJaap Brinkman, a hydrologist with the Dutch research firm Deltares, tells The Guardian: "There are only two options, retreat or advance. We either abandon and evacuate north Jakarta, which is a non-starter, or we advance out into the bay with the seawall."

The debate over the project seems set to be a long one, as poor residents who live on the city's northern fringe are wary of giving up their homes for developments aimed largely at the middle and upper classes. A final decision on the NCICD may be over a year away. Meanwhile, Jakarta continues to sink at an incredible rate.

[Photo via The National]

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