Sinking Cities


As sea levels rise due to the warming of our planet, cities in Asia are some of the places at great risk of being submerged. Text by Rajeswari Vikiraman

Rising sea levels have become synonymous with climate change. With the accelerated rise of global sea levels over the past 20 years – a direct consequence of warming climates largely driven by human activities – Asia stands in a precarious position with four out of five people projected to be affected living here.

Even if efforts to limit global temperature rise to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels is successful, global sea levels are expected to rise between one and three metres within the century, threatening both coastal communities and megacities around Asia and the world.

Jakarta, Indonesia
Average elevation: 8 metres above sea level

Population: 10 million

Sink rate: 25.4cm per year

Jarkarta has been dubbed the fastest sinking city in the world with 40 percent of its land lying below sea level. However, the loss of land, while made worse by rising sea levels, has been primarily caused by unregulated groundwater extractions and the sheer weight of the megacity’s infrastructure, resulting in the sinking of the city by four metres over the past three decades.

Measures in Place
Efforts to save the flood-prone city from sinking are underway with sea walls and artificial islands being constructed.

Dhaka, Bangladesh
Average elevation: 4 metres above sea level

Population: 17.6 million

Sink rate: 1.4cm per  year

In the low-lying capital of Bangladesh, rising sea levels have already displaced people living in the lowest lying regions. This has resulted in an increase in the number of slum dwellers in the densely populated city.

Besides the sea level rise, much like Jakarta, Dhaka also suffers from unsustainable groundwater extraction, exacerbating the city’s subsidence. Another phenomenon, plate tectonics – the movement of the Burman sub-plate and the Indian plate – is also contributing to this subsidence. In comparison to water extraction, however, plate tectonics only has a very minor role to play as its effects result in the sinking of about 3 to 5 millimetres of land per year.

Measures in Place
The country has invested in early warning systems and storm shelters to be prepared for storm related deaths, but despite the efforts, sea level rise from climate change could potentially prove to be an almost impossible challenge to overcome.

For all things mobile, check out the rest of this article in our special issue on the Environment (Asian Geographic No.134 Issue 1/2019 ) here or download a digital copy here


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