Standing on the banks of Jakarta Bay, Victor Coenen sees a row of flimsy houses with corrugated sheet metal roofs that rest on the city’s seawall. A girl wearing flip flops and a pink bow walks on the wall, only a couple feet off the ground.
The Dutch physical geographer points to cranes trying to clear waterways that are clogged with tons of garbage, plastic debris, and water hyacinth. Nearby, in the low-lying Pluit district, mopeds and bicycles ride through flooded streets.
“The city cannot keep up with the sinking,” says Coenen during a tour of this fast-growing capital, noting it’s dropping 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) each year on average and up to 10 inches in some neighborhoods—exponentially faster than Venice, the famous “City of Water.”
In fact, Jakarta could be the Titanic of the world’s metropoles, a place where children wade through waist-deep brackish water to get to school and nearly half of its 10 million people live with frequent flooding. Last Christmas, during high tide, water poured over the Pluit seawall. In 15 years, 80 percent of the northern city will lie below sea level—up from 40 percent now. In 50 years, current streets could be at least 10 feet below it..