One of the biggest changes of today’s world is the fast pace of urbanization. Urbanization is a complex socio-economic process that transforms the built environment, converting formerly rural areas into urban settlements, while also shifting the spatial distribution of a population from rural to urban areas. Between 1950 and 2018, the urban population of the world grew more than four-fold, from an estimated 0.8 billion to an estimated 4.2 billion, and today 55 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas. The rapid urbanization process will likely continue: it is expected that in ten years the percentage of the world’s population living in urban areas will have reached 60 percent.
Much of the increase in urban population is taking place in locations that are highly vulnerable to natural hazards and are expected to experience the greatest impact of climate change. Nearly 60 percent of cities with 300,000 inhabitants today are at high risk of exposure to at least one type of these six natural phenomena: cyclones, droughts, floods, earthquakes, landslides, and volcanic eruptions, and the number is growing. Another urgent problem caused by the current trends in urbanization is that almost half of the world’s population lives in coastal regions and this number will increase in the future decades. This trend, in combination with expected climate change and sea-level rise, but coastal zones, including cities, are under increasing pressure.
One of the cities at most risk is Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country and one of the countries that are urbanising the most and most rapidly. The country’s cities are growing faster than in any other Asian country: today, about 56 percent of Indonesians (151 million people) live in urban areas but by 2045 Indonesia can expect to have 70 percent of its population (220 million people) living in cities. Jakarta’s metropolitan area is one of the most densely populated cities of South East Asia, it is a huge cosmopolitan city with more than 30 million inhabitants.
Urbanization has also increased the exposure of cities to natural hazards. The most immediate challenge Jakarta faces is land subsidence, which is occurring rapidly because of (often illegal) groundwater extraction for industrial use, gas extraction, and natural processes. Land subsidence combined with rising sea levels, changing precipitation patterns, and more intense storms will increase the risk of flooding. The city is subsiding at a rate of 5-10 cm per year, with some areas experiencing rates of 30 cm per year, and the sea level in Jakarta Bay is rising 6mm every year. All these risks together with clogged drainage canals and aging infrastructure cause many areas of Jakarta to be frequently underwater.
To respond to those challenges, Indonesia and Jakarta have taken several measures and national plans to increase Jakarta’s urban resilience to flooding. Urban resilience, despite there being no universally agreed definition, can be defined as ‘the ability of an urban system (and all its constituent socio-ecological and socio-technical networks across temporal and spatial scales) to maintain or rapidly return to desired functions in the face of a disturbance, to adapt to change, and to quickly transform systems that limit current or future adaptive capacity. Nevertheless, due to the speed and magnitude of land subsidence previous strategies have proven to be insufficient and have led to a radical decision: Bappenas (Indonesia’s state planning and developing agency) announced in 2019 that the capital will be transferred from Jakarta, located on the Java island, to Kalimantan, in eastern Borneo, where a modern, vibrant and resilient city will be built.
After the decision to relocate the capital to the island of Borneo was declared, debates have been focused on the future urban plans for the new city “Nagara Rimba Nusa” and the environmental impact the creation of this city will have on the ever-increasingly threatened Borneo ecosystem. But a largely neglected debate is how the development of the city will impact the Indigenous peoples, the Dayaks, that for centuries have inhabited and relied on the rainforest where “the new Jakarta” will be built.
There is international consensus that urban planning should uphold article 19 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which establishes that ‘States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with Indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them’. However, human rights organizations have exposed that the Dayaks have not been consulted in this urban planning and developing process, which threatens to uproot them from the lands they have inhabited for centuries. As forest-dependent people, they are not only at risk of losing their lands and having to relocate elsewhere but also losing their livelihoods. And as a result, their survival as indigenous peoples is under great threat.