Jewel Samad  /  AFP-Getty Images
Jakarta, Indonesia, has seen off and on flooding in recent years, including this seawater that washed over the main street near the international airport on May 8. Hundreds of passengers were left stranded at the airport as a result.
updated 5/29/2008 10:26:14 AM ET 2008-05-29T14:26:14

The World Bank warned Thursday that an exceptionally high tide could inundate the Indonesian capital next week, forcing thousands of people to flee homes and cutting off the highway to the international airport.

The situation — exacerbated by slowly rising seas from global warming and the fact that Jakarta is sinking up to 2 inches a year — could mean flooding will exceed last November's roof-high levels in the hardest-hit areas, said Hongjoo Hahm, the bank's infrastructure expert.

"This is just the beginning," he said, as he pointed to homes reaching a mile inland that will likely be affected Tuesday and Wednesday by the 18-year semiannual tide cycle. "It's getting worse and worse."

Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago nation, is one of the world's largest contributors of carbon dioxide emissions, thanks to the rapid pace of deforestation. But experts say the country is also at risk of becoming one of the biggest victims of climate change.

Rising sea waters especially pose a threat to coastal cities like Jakarta, which has sunk at least 7 feet in the last three decades because of excessive ground water extraction, said Hahm.

Eventually, the government should consider building a Dutch-styled dike to protect the Jakarta Bay, he said, "but that will cost billions of U.S. dollars."

The 18-year high tide cycles occur when the sun and moon are in direct alignment and making their closest approach to the Earth. Other factors, such as global warming or El Nino and La Nina, have made the sea swells even larger in recent years, Hahm said.

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