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On the Brink: 3 Coastal Cities Fighting to Avoid a Sinking Fate

I know you probably don't want to read another blog discussing the detrimental effects of climate change yet again, but the reality is that we cannot afford to ignore its impact on our planet. Among the many threats posed by climate change, one of the most alarming is the rising sea levels.

Rescuers evacuate residents from their flooded homes in Bekasi in February 2021, as heavy rain inundated the city on the outskirts of Jakarta. (Photo by Rezas/AFP via Getty Images)

The implications of such an event would be catastrophic, resulting in the loss of critical infrastructure, cultural landmarks, and homes for millions of people. In this article, we will take a closer look at three cities in Asia that are particularly vulnerable to this impending threat and explore how they plan to prevent it:

  1. Jakarta, Indonesia

  2. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

  3. Bangkok, Thailand

Jakarta, Indonesia is one of the fastest-sinking cities in the world, sinking at a rate of up to 25 cm per year due to a combination of natural and human factors. The city is also facing the threat of rising sea levels and severe flooding. One major influence on Jakarta's sinking infrastructure is the land. It is built on swampy land and is heavily reliant on groundwater for its water supply. Over the years, the excessive extraction of groundwater has caused the land to sink.

Jakarta has experienced rapid population growth and urbanization over the past few decades too, which has led to the construction of large buildings and infrastructure projects. The weight of these structures on the already sinking land has further accelerated the sinking of the city.

Deforestation in the surrounding areas of Jakarta has led to soil erosion, which has caused sediment to be deposited in the city’s waterways. This sediment reduces the capacity of rivers and canals to hold water and increases the risk of flooding.

To address these issues, the Indonesian government announced in 2019 that it would move the capital city Jakarta, a megacity of 10.5 million, to a newly constructed city on the island of Borneo, 2,000 km (1,250 mi) away mainly because Jakarta is sinking. The new capital will be built on the island of Borneo, specifically in the provinces of East Kalimantan and North Kalimantan. The government hopes that the relocation will help to alleviate the problems caused by Jakarta’s sinking, as well as redistribute development and economic growth across different parts of the country.

The move to a new capital also presents an opportunity for the Indonesian government to design and build a city from scratch, incorporating modern infrastructure and sustainable technologies to reduce environmental impacts. The project is expected to take several years to complete, with estimates suggesting that the new capital could be ready by 2024 or 2025. However, the move has been met with some criticism, as some experts argue that it may not solve the underlying issues of climate change and overpopulation that have led to Jakarta’s sinking in the first place.

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City, also know wn as Saigon, is a bustling metropolis located in southern Vietnam. Unfortunately, it is also one of the cities that are at risk of sinking due to several factors. The city’s location in an area of land subsidence, caused by extensive groundwater extraction, along with high tides, heavy rains, and overflow in the Saigon and Dong Nai rivers, makes it particularly vulnerable. Almost 45% of the city sits less than one meter above sea level, leading to recurrent floods. Unfortunately, housing developments have replaced vital tide-draining swamps that once protected these flood-prone areas, resulting in record-breaking river tides. These floods not only cause millions of dollars in damage but also put hundreds of thousands of people’s lives at risk.

In the face of global temperature rise, sea levels are expected to increase by over one meter by 2100. As a result, almost 20% of Ho Chi Minh City’s area will be inundated, which will displace almost 7 million people. The majority of those affected will live in the Can Gio coastal district, according to Earth.Org’s sea level rise projections.