Forget Venice. The fastest-sinking city is the Indonesian capital, parts of which are dropping at 25cm a year. Can an outlandish plan for a giant seawall and luxury waterworld city in the shape of a mythical bird save Jakarta from drowning?
With her hand stretched upward, the elderly storekeeper in batik dress and white headscarf indicates the height of the waters that poured into her home in Jakarta’s great flood of 2007. Sukaesih is a diminutive figure, but she points to a ridge on the doorframe about two metres above the threshold.
The 60-year-old grandmother, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name, lives in the down-at-heel waterfront neighbourhood of Maura Baru. Her front room-turned-store, where she sells soft drinks and the clove kretek cigarettes beloved of locals, looks unassuming, but is at ground zero for the city’s battle for survival.
Just across the alleyway is the stone seawall that was reinforced and heightened after 2007, but is already cracking, buckling and leaking. The fortification is all that stands between these homes and the waters of Jakarta Bay, which lap just beneath the rim on the other side. Filthy water already seeps through the cracks continuously, leaving streams of muddy run-off flowing in front of Sukaesih’s shop. When tides are high, the water pours over.
“We live with this reality every day,” Sukaesih says, looking out at the embankment. “Water comes in through the wall all the time, and it comes over the top whenever there’s a high tide.”
The biggest problem, however, is that the seawall itself – the only thing protecting Sukaesih’s community from inundation – is sinking. […]