Jakarta (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - Jakarta has long been infamous for its repeated floods, such as those that crippled the capital and all its government and economic activities last week. Over 15,000 people were displaced and the material losses from infrastructure destruction and damage inflicted on personal property have reportedly reached 20 trillion rupiah (US$ 2 billion).
The devastating impact of the disaster on government activities and public services under the central government's auspices has revived a debate over the need for the country to move its capital from flood-ridden Jakarta. Even President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, according to his aides, has considered relocation of the capital, albeit as a last resort, as part of an all-out, comprehensive effort to solve the problems facing Jakarta.
With or without major floods, which strike every five or six years, Jakarta can no longer sustain the population burden with all its consequences. The city no longer has space to provide housing to all of its nearly 10 million citizens or build roads for the 6 million cars and motorcycles thronging the capital. This is quite apart from the city's lack of infrastructure to protect residents from disasters like the annual floods.
Jakarta today is typified by frustrating traffic gridlock, slums that encircle high-rise buildings, makeshift huts built along riverbanks, food stalls and groceries that occupy sidewalks, traditional markets that spill onto public thoroughfares, clogged drains, illegal parking along busy streets and other forms of disorderliness resulting from the state of over-population. Not to mention the city's crime rate, which tends to increase year-on-year.
Every time Jakarta voters chose their leader, they elect a candidate who they consider able to live up to their high expectations, which of course gives them false hope. Jakarta has turned into a megalopolis without enough resources to deal with its gigantic problems and challenges.
What the founding fathers failed to anticipate when they chose Jakarta as the capital city was perhaps its evolution as the country's commercial hub. About 60 percent of the nation's money circulates in Jakarta, where foreign companies assign their representatives.
Many countries have become aware of the problems in developing their capital city as both the center of government and the heart of economic activities. Then they have got to the point where relocating the capital city becomes unavoidable. Brazil did it in 1960 when it moved its capital from densely populated Rio de Janeiro to newly built Brasilia City, our Southeast Asian neighbors Malaysia and Myanmar moved their capitals to Putrajaya and Naypyidaw in 1999 and 2005 respectively.
Indonesia moved its capital to Yogyakarta from January 1946 to December 1949 due to the war of independence. In that time Bukittinggi in West Sumatra also briefly served as the capital city when founding president Sukarno established an emergency government prior to his arrest by the Dutch between December 1948 and June 1949.
Unless Jakarta takes drastic measures to shore up its increasing burden, Indonesia will have to consider an alternative capital. Sooner or later saying good-bye to Jakarta will no longer be a matter of choice, but of necessity.