Can Indonesia Turn Overpopulation Into an Asset?


 Tue, February 14, 2012

February 13, 2012 | by Dirgayuza Setiawan
Idenesia: Can Indonesia Turn Overpopulation Into an Asset?


According to the World Bank’s Country Director for Indonesia, Stefan Koeberle, Jakarta is a big city that cannot provide adequate mass transportation for its residents. Because the road is getting so congested, gridlock in 2014 is unavoidable.

Can a country that is already battling poverty and pollution avoid a population explosion? That’s the question posed by “Indonesia: Bursting at the Seams,” a 25-minute program aired by Al Jazeera’s 101 East.

Aired on Aug. 30, 2011, the video, I suppose, was a response to World Population Day, which falls on July 11. The main problem in regards to Indonesia’s overpopulation, as presented by the program is as follow: Indonesia’s economy is booming, creating a larger middle class than ever before. It then draws migrants to Jakarta. But thousands of these people struggle in the slums on the urban fringe, scraping together an income by selling street food in an already crowded capital city. Simply put, life in Jakarta is unbearable as the population increases. As the number continues to rise, the pressure is growing to tackle important issues, namely food security and poverty. 

In his state of the nation speech in 2010, President SBY said that Indonesia’s population had reached 237.6 million. This number is 5.1 million more than the number previously projected by the United Nations. 

Based on the current projection, the population will be more than double by 2045. One in 20 citizens of the world will be Indonesian. A big problem is infrastructure. According to the World Bank’s Country Director for Indonesia, Stefan Koeberle, Jakarta is a big city that cannot provide adequate mass transportation for its residents. Many transport analysts predict, because the road is getting so congested, gridlock in 2014 is unavoidable.

Meanwhile, population experts believe Indonesia’s problems are rooted in poor urban planning and the centralization of almost all economic activities in Java. Ery Seda, a sociologist from University of Indonesia, said the problem Jakartans face now is the legacy of Dutch colonialization and the uneven structural development. Thus, 57 percent of Indonesians live in Java, while the island itself is only 7 percent of the country’s area.  

Prijono Tjiptoherijanto, a demographer, suggested migration as a way to overcome overpopulation. “Let Jakarta become a trading city,” he said, while attempting to move families in Java to other islands in the archipelago. 

Of course, migration itself won’t suffice. Indroyono Soesilo, a veteran natural resources scientist, offered the following to address overpopulation:
1.    Revitalize family planning programs
2.    Reduce the number of people living below the poverty line
3.    Reduce the number of unemployed people 

While the video tries to educate its viewers on the danger of a population explosion, we might need to step back and re-analyze. According to the

CIA World Factbook, Indonesia’s population growth rate was 1.069 percent in 2011. This figure shows Indonesia’s fertility is around replacement level. If the number drops lower than replacement level, it’ll result in a shortage of labor. 

What I want to emphasize here is the revitalization of family planning programs. Arguably, one of the main reasons why Indonesia is not struggling even more in the face of overpopulation is the National Family Planning Coordination Board (BKKBN). The program, known for its motto ‘2 Anak Cukup’ (2 Children is Enough) was introduced during Suharto’s regime in the 1970s. The second president of Indonesia seemed to realize that if he let a population explosion occur during his regime, it could sink the nation, like China around forty years ago, whose large population was seen as a liability. Therefore, Suharto provided free contraception. 

Unfortunately, the transition to democracy has weakened family planning. People think having more than two children is their right. Moreover, lower income families cannot afford to purchase contraception. 

By revitalizing family planning programs, the government could focus on stressing the idea that a family with more than two children is a liability, not an asset. When large numbers of children remain dependent on their parents to live, it’ll make them harder to have decent quality of life. This, in turn, will have effects on the quality of the labor force and the country’s economic growth. 

The challenge for the government now is to keep fertility around replacement level, just like the way it is now. In fact, a rising population nowadays should be seen as an asset for joining the ranks of other developing countries, such as China and India. 

The main task here is to focus on implementing policies, providing affordable contraception, and revitalizing family planning programs to keep the population growth rate steady. Obviously, it’s not as easy as described above, but if these steps are followed thoughtfully, then overpopulation might no longer be an issue. 

Dirgayuza Setiawan is Co-founder of Idenesia, a social enterprise spreading ideas through documentaries. Idenesia Arsip Positif, one of its programs, aims to create a free, accessible Internet archive of high-quality short films and documentaries on Indonesia. See more videos on http://www.idenesia.tv

Doc Turbo

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About Stephen Booth

Surface Engineering, HVAF, HVOF, APS Coating technologies expert in Asia
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