It is now official. After more than two years debating among 80 proposals, Nusantara is the name of the new capital of Indonesia. This was announced by its president, Joko Widodo, after parliament passed a law on Tuesday giving the green light to the move. Because it changes the name, but also the location. After four centuries as the political, financial and commercial center of the country – since it became the capital of the Dutch West Indies in 1619, under the name of Batavia – Jakarta, on the island of Java, will no longer be the capital, which will now move 1,300 kilometers away to the jungle of Kalimantan, east of Borneo (it should be noted that Indonesia shares this island with its neighbors Brunei and Malaysia, although most of it is under Indonesian rule). But Nusantara does not yet exist and needs to be built. According to government plans, construction is scheduled to begin this year and last until 2045; a long project for which 466 trillion rupiah (more than 28 billion euros) is to be spent.
Why this change of capital? Basically, to prevent Jakarta from sinking and disappearing. Perennially congested by endless traffic jams and extremely high levels of pollution, this city of 661 square kilometers and more than 10 million inhabitants (one of the most overpopulated urban regions in the world) is crumbling at a rate of 20 centimeters per year and almost half of it is already below sea level. This time, climate change is not to blame. The main reason is that its inhabitants extract groundwater, which they then use for all kinds of activities, including drinking water. To this must be added a vertiginous urban development that has been paving the surface of a city crossed by 13 rivers, which have no outlet to the sea, and where it rains an average of 130 days a year. The result: a land that can no longer absorb water, which is flooding more and more frequently and where buildings are sinking rapidly.
“The new capital will have a centralizing function and will be a symbol of the country’s identity,” said Suharso Monoarfa, Indonesia’s Minister of National Development Planning, when the news was made public. Symbol, first and foremost, because of its meaning. Because Nusanta means “archipelago” in the language of this Asian country, made up of some 17,000 islands covering an area of almost 2 million square kilometers. But it turns out that the Indonesians themselves colloquially refer to the whole country by this name, which has caused a large part of the population to find the new appellation strange and even oppose it. Another setback arises from the site chosen for its location, and is that most of the more than 2,500 square kilometers of the new capital will come from the jungle (known for its orangutans, in addition to palm oil plantations), which has sparked debate about the sustainability and environmental impact of the project.