The 'wickedness' of governing land subsidence: Policy perspectives from urban southeast Asia

Rapti Siriwardane De Zoysa, Tilo Schöne, Johannes Herbeck, Julia Illigner, Mahmud Haghighi, Hendricus Simarmata, Emma Porio, Alessio Rovere, Anna Katharina Hornidge

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Drawing on Jakarta, Metro Manila and Singapore as case studies, we explore the paradox of slow political action in addressing subsiding land, particularly along high-density urban coastlines with empirical insights from coastal geography, geodesy analysis, geology, and urban planning. In framing land subsidence as a classic 'wicked' policy problem, and also as a hybrid geological and anthropogenic phenomenon that is unevenly experienced across urban contexts, the paper uses a three-step analysis. First, satellite-derived InSAR maps are integrated with Sentinel-1A data in order to reveal the socio-temporal variability of subsidence rates which in turn pose challenges in uniformly applying regulatory action. Second, a multi-sectoral mapping of diverse policies and practices spanning urban water supply, groundwater extraction, land use zoning, building codes, tenurial security, and land reclamation reveal the extent to which the broader coastal governance landscape remains fragmented and incongruous, particularly in arresting a multi-dimensional phenomenon such as subsidence. Finally, in reference to distinct coastal identities of each city-the 'Sinking Capital' (Jakarta), 'Fortress Singapore', and the 'Disaster Capital' (Manila) the paper illustrates how land subsidence is portrayed across the three metropolises in markedly similar ways: As a reversible, quasi-natural, and/or a highly individualized problem.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0250208
JournalPloS one
Issue number6 June
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


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