133. Why Is Indonesia Changing Capital City? (English Vocabulary Lesson)



Indonesia will soon move its capital city to a new location! Why has Indonesia had to make this decision? And why did they choose this location? Is Indonesia the first country to change capitals? Let’s answer these questions on today’s episode of Thinking in English!!



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Vocabulary List

Bucket list (n) – a list of the things that a person would like to do or achieve before they die

Visiting the Great Wall of China is on my bucket list

Unsuitable (adj) – not acceptable, suitable, or right

The TV show was considered unsuitable for children  

To submerge (v) – to go below or make something go below the surface of water

The athlete submerges himself in an ice bath every day

Warped (adj) – bent because of damage by heat or water

Have you noticed how warped the floor is?

To pump (v) – to force liquid or gas to move somewhere

The new wine is pumped into storage tanks 

Extraction (n) – the process of removing something

The extraction of resources has damaged the environment 

Archipelago (n) – a group of small islands or an area of sea in which there are many small islands

Hawaii is an archipelago 

Dependent (adj) – needing the support of something or someone in order to continue existing or operating 

He has become dependent on alcohol

Administrative (adj) – relating to the work of managing or organising a business or activity

The administrative costs are increasing every year

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Nusantara. You’ve probably never heard of this place before, but in the next few years it will become the capital city of Indonesia. It will be the capital of the fourth largest country in the world (by population), and the largest economy in Southeast Asia – so Nusantara is going to have an important and influential role in global affairs. 

Why did Indonesia decide to change its capital city? What does Nusantara mean? Have other countries changed their capital city? Let’s answer these questions on today’s episode of Thinking in English!!  

Jakarta: A Broken City

Currently, the capital city of Indonesia is Jakarta. I’ve never visited Indonesia before (although it is definitely on my bucket list!) but my Indonesian friends have told me a lot about Jakarta. Essentially, the city is gradually being destroyed. 

Jakarta skyline. Wikimedia.org

Being destroyed? How? The city is currently home to over 10 million people, but it was built on land unsuitable to host such a huge population. The land is swampy, the Java sea is on Jakarta’s doorstep, and there are 13 different rivers running through it. 

Swamps, seas, and rivers. If you think this sounds like a very wet city, you’d be right! Jakarta suffers from regular flooding which causes significant disruption and damage to people’s property. Recent years have seen the number of floods increase, and the scale of the floods has also been getting worse. 

Floods are not Jakarta’s only issue. In fact, it is also one of the fastest sinking cities in the entire world. The city is literally sinking into the ground. North Jakarta has sunk by 2.5 metres in just 10 years and scientists predict that up to 95% of North Jakarta will be completely submerged by 2050. Already, half of the entire city is below sea level. 

The result is more floods, and significant damage to buildings and structures. As the city sinks, roads and pavements become warped and buildings begin to suffer cracks and structural problems. For the residents of Jakarta, however, these issues are just one of numerous problems that have become part of their daily lives. 

Why is Jakarta sinking? One of the major reasons is water. The city’s water pipes don’t provide enough safe and reliable water for the 10 million residents. So in parts of the city, people are forced to pump groundwater from deep below the surface, and use this for drinking and bathing. However, as water is being removed, the city sinks down to the space left behind. 

14 Causes of Traffic Congestion in Jakarta : Our Main Problems -  FactsofIndonesia.com
Traffic congestion in Jakarta

Moreover, Indonesia doesn’t properly regulate water extractions. In Indonesia, everyone, including normal residents and massive industries, are allowed to pump groundwater. But people are taking more water than they are allowed to, as the government is unable to provide enough water from other sources.  

Other cities have faced similar issues in the past. Japan’s capital Tokyo, for example, was also sinking 50 years ago. In that case, they used expensive technology to replace the groundwater being taken from below the city, heavily regulated groundwater extraction, and made industry use alternative water sources. 

Unlike Tokyo, Jakarta doesn’t really have an alternative water source. It would take decades to clean local rivers and lakes so that the water is safe to be used by normal people. Furthermore, Jakarta suffers from terrible air pollution and the city has notorious traffic jams. The traffic is so bad that government officials require police escorts just to get to work on time. 

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Indonesia’s Brand New Capital

So, what do you do when your capital city is sinking, flooding, polluted, and overcrowded? Indonesia’s answer is to build a new one!! After considering almost 100 different locations, the government chose the area that will become Nusantara. Nusantara is being built in East Kalimantan, the Indonesian province on the island of Borneo, and will cost at least $32bn to move. At the moment, only a few million people live in the entire region, which is famous for rainforests and orangutans. 

Indonesia’s new capital will be on the island of Borneo. Image from wikimedia.org

The city’s name, Nusantara, means “archipelago” in Javanese. Apparently, the new name was chosen as it was internationally known and represented the country’s geography. However, critics have said it could be confusing because some Indonesian languages already use Nusantara to describe the whole country!  

Why are they building the capital on the island of Borneo? There are several reasons. There are some existing cities in the area, which means some infrastructure (like roads) have already been built. Also, the area doesn’t suffer from the same natural disasters that affect most of the country – volcanos, floods, tsunamis, or earthquakes. 

The decision to move the capital is not without criticism. Some people are worried that there will be a lot of environmental destruction. As more people move to the new city, logging and deforestation will increase to make room, and provide materials, for the new people. Borneo is one of the world’s most diverse and important environmental regions – it is especially known for being home to orangutans! There are also the indigenous people of Kalimantan – called the Dayaks – who live lives dependent on the forests. Moving the capital to their land may destroy their environment. 

Without doing something to deal with the problems that faced Jakarta, perhaps they will be just taking water shortages, air pollution, housing issues, and traffic congestion to a new island! Brazil created a new capital in the 1960s, Brasilia, which was supposed to be a fairer society without the inequality and poverty of the old capital Rio de Janeiro. Today, however, Brasilia is one of the most unequal cities around the globe.

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Why do Countries Change Their Capital Cities? 

Indonesia is not the first, and will not be the last, country to move their capital cities. In recent memory, countries including Brazil, Pakistan, and Nigeria have built and relocated new capitals. In fact, just a few weeks ago at the end of 2021, the Egyptian government held their first meeting to organise the construction of a new administrative capital east of Cairo. Why do countries do this? 

The location of capital cities often has political significance – especially in newer countries. Washington DC was chosen as a point between the USA’s northern and southern states, while Australia’s Canberra is in between the major cities of Sydney and Melbourne. The idea is to make the countries more unified. 

Myanmar's Remote Capital Is Still a Work in Progress - The New York Times
Myanmar’s Naypyidaw is famous for being empty!

Nigeria also tried to unify the country by changing capitals in 1991 – switching from Christian Lagos to Abuja in between the Christian south and Islamic north. However, some Nigerians complain that it hasn’t had the desired effect. 

Moreover, two of the most recent new capitals are Myanmar’s Naypyidaw, built in 2004, and Equatorial Guinea’s Oyala, which became capital in 2017. Both of these projects were designed to move the governments (both dictatorships) to safer locations away from the people! 

Final Thought

On today’s episode of Thinking in English, we’ve looked at Indonesia’s decision to move their capital city. Sinking, flooding, pollution, and overcrowding have forced Indonesia to look for new locations. They are not the first country to change capitals, and history has shown that it is not always successful!

What do you think? Do you think Indonesia is making the right decision to move their capital city? Has your country ever changed capital?


2 responses to “133. Why Is Indonesia Changing Capital City? (English Vocabulary Lesson)”

  1. Hello, I used to live in Indonesia for a long time. Therefore, I found this episode very interesting. It is very likely that the same problems Jakarta is currently facing will occur when the new city is built if people do not know what the problem is. I am sure the most important thing is awareness. Jakarta’s traffic jam, for instance, is said to be the worst in the world and cannot be improved. Nevertheless, I thought that if the people of Jakarta were to make an effort to prevent such a terrible situation, Jakarta would have become one of the ideal cities. People don’t care to litter the garbage where ever they are. Even when they’re in a car, they’ll throw banana peels, plastic bottles, etc. out of the window. In fact, the river becomes as though a trash bin. These are very basic issues we face in the world today. However, in order for the people who live in the city to live a better life, we must overcome these difficulties. Honestly, it’s too hard for them because I have seen Indonesia since 1977 and not much has changed, but it’s getting worse. I know they moved to the capital city to cope with the problems, but to what extent do they realize the root cause of the problems? Every time I think of my lovely niece, I wonder if her country will one day have a capital city that she can be proud of to the people around the globe. By the way, I heard you’re interested in visiting Indonesia? Have you tried Bintang beer? It’s Indonesian beer and It is sold in Koriyama too(^_-) 

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think I agree with you! Without addressing the root causes of the problems (overpopulation, poverty, environmental concerns, poor regulations) perhaps we will see a similar fate occur to the new capital.

      Thanks for your great comments!

      Liked by 1 person

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2 responses to “133. Why Is Indonesia Changing Capital City? (English Vocabulary Lesson)”

  1. Hello, I used to live in Indonesia for a long time. Therefore, I found this episode very interesting. It is very likely that the same problems Jakarta is currently facing will occur when the new city is built if people do not know what the problem is. I am sure the most important thing is awareness. Jakarta’s traffic jam, for instance, is said to be the worst in the world and cannot be improved. Nevertheless, I thought that if the people of Jakarta were to make an effort to prevent such a terrible situation, Jakarta would have become one of the ideal cities. People don’t care to litter the garbage where ever they are. Even when they’re in a car, they’ll throw banana peels, plastic bottles, etc. out of the window. In fact, the river becomes as though a trash bin. These are very basic issues we face in the world today. However, in order for the people who live in the city to live a better life, we must overcome these difficulties. Honestly, it’s too hard for them because I have seen Indonesia since 1977 and not much has changed, but it’s getting worse. I know they moved to the capital city to cope with the problems, but to what extent do they realize the root cause of the problems? Every time I think of my lovely niece, I wonder if her country will one day have a capital city that she can be proud of to the people around the globe. By the way, I heard you’re interested in visiting Indonesia? Have you tried Bintang beer? It’s Indonesian beer and It is sold in Koriyama too(^_-) 

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I agree with you! Without addressing the root causes of the problems (overpopulation, poverty, environmental concerns, poor regulations) perhaps we will see a similar fate occur to the new capital.

      Thanks for your great comments!

      Liked by 1 person

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