Disaster capitalism? Examining the politicisation of land subsidence crisis in pushing Jakarta’s Seawall Megaproject

Thanti Octavianti
School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford, United Kingdom; thanti.octavianti@ouce.ox.ac.uk

Katrina Charles
School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford, United Kingdom; katrina.charles@ouce.ox.ac.uk

ABSTRACT: This paper offers an analysis of 'disaster capitalism', in which fear of disaster is exploited to facilitate the entry of a capitalist project, with regard to Jakarta’s flood policy. After a major flood hit the city in 2013, the Indonesian government launched a flagship megaproject, the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development (NCICD), as the solution for the city’s sinking problem. The plan involves closing Jakarta Bay by means of a 32-kilometre (km) offshore sea wall and reclaiming 5100 hectares (ha) of land. Following a corruption scandal in a related reclamation project (for 17 artificial islands), the NCICD plan was evaluated for six months in 2016. Although many criticisms of the plan surfaced during the evaluation period, they were not able to bring about radical change, i.e. cancellation of the project. Informed by the concept of 'critical juncture' (an analytical approach focusing on a short period of time in which actors’ decisions have a higher probability of affecting the particular outcome), we analyse the extent to which the framing of the sinking crisis by political actors can explain such a 'near-miss' critical juncture, where change is both possible and plausible but not achieved. Drawing data from newspaper discourse, interviews, and policy documents, we find that the project’s proponents have eloquently framed the sinking crisis in order to ensure preference for the seawall policy, including the project concerning the 17 islands that was claimed by the critics as the capitalist part of the project. It can be concluded that the 'disaster capitalism' notion played a significant role in this 'near-miss' outcome.

KEYWORDS: Seawall, land subsidence crisis, critical juncture, disaster capitalism, Jakarta, Indonesia