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Tomorrow's world

The city that’s sinking into the sea

A computer-generated image of Indonesia’s new capital Nusantara

Jakarta is sinking, says Hannah Beech in The New York Times. Since Indonesia secured independence in 1945, the city has grown from fewer than a million people to more than 30 million – and over that time, 40% of it has sunk below sea level. So President Joko Widodo is doing something radical: he is using his executive power to abandon the existing capital on the slender island of Java, and build a spanking new one some 800 miles away on Borneo. It will be called Nusantara, meaning archipelago, which rather befits a country made up of more than 17,000 islands scattered between two oceans.

The idea, says Joko, is not just to save Jakarta’s residents from the sea. He wants to build a “green metropolis run on renewable energy”, where there are no choking traffic jams and where people can “stroll and bike along verdant paths”. The new capital, he says, will be a “paradigm for adapting to a warming planet”. The biggest barriers to the scheme are the country’s endemic graft and the President’s “quixotic decision-making”. Desperate to get the job done before his term ends next year, he has set his builders an insane timetable. The presidential palace and key government buildings, for example, are scheduled to be unveiled next August. But while “excavators and bulldozers” rumble through the forest “like columns of Borneo fire ants”, not a single structure has yet been completed. “We want to build a new Indonesia,” says Joko. “We want a new work ethic.” He’s going to need it.