TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - The Joko Widodo (Jokowi) administration or the government has assured that the development of the capital city will not damage the environment and vowed that East Kalimantan forests will remain intact. This comes after the government announced that parts of North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kartanegara Districts in East Kalimantan Province would be the location for the country’s new capital expected to be inaugurated in 2024, the year when Jokowi’s second term will end.
President Jokowi told the media August 26, 2019 that the two districts were selected, as they faced the least risks from natural disasters, including floods, earthquake, tsunamis, forest fires, and landslides.
Moreover, they are strategically located in the heart of Indonesia and near Balikpapan and Samarinda that are developed cities. Hence, basic infrastructure and facilities already exist. Besides, the government owns 180 thousand hectares of land there.
The decision to move from Jakarta was based on a three-year study conducted by the government.
"The results of the studies concluded that the ideal location for a new capital city will be part of North Penajam Paser District and part of Kutai Kartanegara District in East Kalimantan," President Jokowi, who has been re-elected for the 2019-2024 term, noted.
The work is expected to start in 2021 and cost up to Rp466 trillion (US$32.3 billion) to be covered by the State Budget (Rp74.44 trillion), Public-Private Partnership scheme (Rp265.2 trillion), and private investment (Rp127.3 trillion).
Relocating the capital city in Kalimantan has triggered debates on both sides. The island, also known as Borneo, is considered “the lung of the world” as it is home to vast forests that help absorb CO2.
Forests are a stabilizing force for the climate. Approximately 2.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide, one-third of the CO2 released from burning fossil fuels, is absorbed by forests every year. Forests also regulate ecosystems, protect biodiversity, play an integral part in the carbon cycle, and support livelihoods.
Indonesia is home to the world’s third-largest tropical rain forest area after Brazil and Congo.
Located near Balikpapan City, Bukit Soeharto Forest Park in Samboja Sub-district, Kutai Kartanegara District, hosts the Wanariset Samboja Orangutan Rehabilitation and Reintroduction Center, as well as an education forest managed by the University of Mulawarman.
Balikpapan also has the Sungai (River) Wain Protected Forest (HLSW) which has extraordinary biodiversity including endangered fauna such as sambar deer, orangutans (Pongo pygmaues), sun bears (Helarctos malayanus), and nearly 200 species of birds.
Surrounding Balikpapan, are also many primary forests, mangrove forests, seagrass beds, and coral reefs on its coastal area.
The primary forests and coasts are home to some 1,400 rare yellow-hair proboscis monkeys (Nasalis larvatus), leopards, dugong, crocodiles, green turtles, 60 to 140 dolphins, 300 species of birds, 100 species of mammals, and more than 1,000 species of trees, according to a research conducted by Stanislav Lhota.
Being home to such rich biodiversity, Balikpapan and its surrounding areas, including Samboja and its Bukit Soeharto Forest Park, have been called "the last fortress of lowland tropical forests in Kalimantan" by environmentalists.
"It will cover a total area of 180 thousand hectares. Some 40 thousand hectares will become the main area, and in future, it will be expanded to 180 thousand hectares. Half of it would be green spaces, including preserved forest. In parts of North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kertanegara, we have the Bukit Soeharto preserved forest," National Development Planning Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro said.
The government has yet to decide on the specific delineation for the next capital. Environmental Affairs and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya confirmed there were no difficulties in preparing the exact location for the new capital city to be situated between North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kartanegara, as forest area allotment is changeable with government policy.
"As we know, in addition to the Bukit Suharto Forest Park, there are also conservation and production forests in the districts, and several of them have obtained permits," she noted.
The allotment of forest areas can be changed in line with the government’s policy based on Government Regulation No. 104 of 2015 on Procedures for Changing the Purposes and Functions of Forest Areas, she explained.
The relocation is necessary for economic and development equity across the country and to ease the burden on Java Island in general and Jakarta in particular, Jokowi had explained earlier.
"The burden of Java Island is getting heavier with the population reaching 150 million or 54 percent of Indonesia's total population, with 58 percent of Indonesia's economic GDP on Java Island," he said.
He pointed to Jakarta, as an administration and business center, also being overburdened.
Hosting both government and business centers, Jakarta is currently facing major problems of overpopulation, severe congestion, air pollution, and water pollution.
The central government studied numerous locations in Java and concluded that the burden on Java would only increase if the new capital city were to remain there. It is Indonesia's fifth-largest island after Papua, Kalimantan, Sumatra, and Sulawesi.