Jakarta Leads the List of Cities on a Precarious Edge

Jakarta, Bangalore, Mexico City, and Miami. These are among many so-called Day-Zero candidate cities, where taps could soon run dry due to water scarcity.

The causes are myriad: drought, encroaching sea water, poor management, pollution, and population growth all combine to put freshwater supplies in peril. But while those causes vary, experts agree, Cape Town was only among the first to face a “Day Zero” scenario.

Here in the megacity of more than 10 million (with 30 million in the surrounding region), Jakarta is a bright beacon of warning for the accelerating urban struggle for sustainable water and sanitation systems, exacerbated by a lack of political will, public engagement, and well-placed investment. Indonesia has repeatedly considered moving the capital, which sits below sea level in some areas, to avoid a looming threat.

Upstream deforestation, too, means that the city’s river systems, mostly fed by the Ciliwung River system, are so polluted or silt-filled that the water cannot be treated for basic use. As a result, groundwater from shallow wells has become the lifeblood of the city’s residents. Businesses also rely heavily on groundwater extraction with nearly a third depending on aquifers and wells.

Indonesia’s capital could be the first to move because of water shortages and pollution

As more and more groundwater is extracted, the city ratchets downward, sinking further below sea level as empty wells leave space for mud and silt to seep in. Rising sea levels and periodic flooding due to deforestation amplify the challenge.

There are plans in the works to help better manage the city’s water resources according to the deputy governor, Sandiaga Uno, who is advocating a plan to eliminate the millions of free-flowing septic tanks. Currently, it’s the most visible plan to meet the city’s water demands.

In addition to documenting its decline, and in proposing massive sea wall to hold back the ocean, Jakarta will need to dramatically shift behavior and the embedded social structures necessary to redesign its water’s future.

Vector Center’s Top “Day-Zero” Candidates:

Jakarta is another example of where Vector Center is peeling back the layers for clients, on the front lines where data, context and perception are revealing deep embedded water risks. Other Day Zero candidates include: