SEVERE REPRISAL TARA, Indonesia: The Indonesian government has started building its new capital city in the East Borneo jungle, and the ground is a vibrant shade of orange.


Officials claim they will create a “sustainable forest city” that will be carbon neutral by the year 2045 and will prioritize environmental protection at its core. However, environmentalists and Indigenous communities have voiced their opposition to the project, arguing that it will worsen environmental conditions, reduce the habitat of threatened species like orangutans, and force the relocation of Indigenous people who live off the land.

After President Joko Widodo announced that Jakarta, the crowded, polluted, earthquake-prone, and rapidly sinking into the Java Sea current capital, would be retired from capital status, construction of the new capital began in the middle of 2022.

The proposed new capital is set to be twice the size of New York City, and grandiose designs are in the works. Renewable energy sources, “smart” waste management, and green buildings are all part of the plan to make this city a model of sustainability in the future, which city officials say will be centered on forests, parks, and the production of food.

“We have to think beyond what is happening today and try to tackle (things) that are futuristic,” said Bambang Susantono, chairman of Nusantara National Capital Authority, speaking about the city’s design and ability to answer future challenges.

The government’s digital renderings depict a city set in a verdant forest, with people strolling along tree-lined streets and buildings sporting plant-covered rooftops.

Inspiration for the design of the buildings came from both modern urban towers and traditional Indonesian architecture, such as the presidential palace in the shape of a garuda (a mythical bird and the national symbol of Indonesia) and other buildings that make a stylistic nod to traditional architecture used by Indigenous groups across the archipelago.

While the new city is still a long way from the pristine appearance promised by its architects, progress is being made. The city’s infrastructure is only 14% complete, according to Indonesia’s minister of public works and housing, Basuki Hadimuljono, who made that statement in February.

Seven thousand workers are currently engaged in initial site preparations such as clearing, plowing, and construction. There are already in use worker dorms, basic roads, and a helipad. The presidential palace and other important structures are scheduled to be finished by August 2024.

Early in March, reporters from The Associated Press were able to see construction sites that had recently been excavated, complete with freshly turned earth mounds and surrounding excavators and cranes. Other sites have printed signboards describing what will be there when the work is done, while at least one has a QR code that visitors can scan to see 3D visuals of what the area will look like when it is finished.

The federal government has pledged to take environmental concerns seriously. Indications of a more conscientious approach to building include the presence of a plant nursery for the replanting process promised by officials and the presence of industrial forest surrounding the site.
However, environmentalists are concerned that the increased construction activity this year will hasten deforestation in one of the world’s largest and oldest tracts of tropical rainforest. In addition to being home to a wide variety of plant and animal life, forests are also known as “the lungs of the world” because of their role in absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide and thereby slowing the planet’s warming. Palm oil plantations and coal mines have already damaged the island.

The government’s plans don’t take into account the region’s unique wildlife, such as orangutans and sun bears, according to Dwi Sawung, an infrastructure specialist at the Indonesian Forum for Living Environment, an environmental nongovernmental organization monitoring the new capital project. The construction of the new city has severed a vital animal passageway.

He recommended relocating the animals before beginning construction. However, because of time constraints, the area was constructed without first relocating the animals.
Many professionals are worried about the reliability of the power supply in the nation’s new capital. Groups are concerned that some of the region’s coal-fired power plants may be used in the short term, despite government assurances that the city will use a “smart energy” system.
The International Renewable Energy Agency reports that only about 12% of Indonesia’s solar, hydropower, geothermal, wind, and other renewable energy potential is currently being utilized. While the city’s accessible public transportation system may discourage car use, there will likely be heavy air traffic between the new capital and Jakarta, located some 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) away.
Local indigenous communities are concerned that further land loss due to the new capital’s urban sprawl will exacerbate an already dire situation.

Officials have promised to compensate those who have lost their homes and to uphold Indigenous peoples’ rights. Local officials have stated that they will verify all land claims and accept documents as proof of ownership, but much of the land is handed down through families without paperwork and not all tribal areas are recognized.

We object to being moved. Sibukdin, an Indigenous community leader who, like many in the country, goes by a single name and who resides in Sepaku, a ward very close to the construction area, expressed this sentiment.
Indigenous people in the area will have “a couple of options for them to be included in the process,” Susantono said. These include financial compensation, relocation, and equity participation in the new businesses.

They will always be convinced and informed of the city’s bright future, he promised. Ideally, they’ll realize that everyone stands to benefit from this.

Construction, however, has continued as Indonesia actively pursues investors, and the city is scheduled to be officially opened on August 17, 2019, to coincide with Indonesia’s Independence Day celebrations.

“Nusantara is the city of the future,” Susantono proclaimed. “It won’t be a government town for much longer; it’ll grow into a thriving city.”