Camelia Pasandaran & Dion Bisara
With recently released government data showing that the number of poor people in Indonesia is declining, once again questions are being raised among experts over the government’s definition of poverty.
According to the Central Statistics Agency (BPS), based on the one-dollar-a-day poverty line, there are about a million fewer poor Indonesians this year. The new BPS statistics released on Friday showed that the poor now constitute 12.5 percent of Indonesia’s population, down from 13.3 percent last year. BPS says this translates to 30.02 million poor Indonesians, as opposed to the 31.02 million in March last year.
Rural areas accounted for 950,000 of those who emerged from poverty, while only 50,000 came from urban areas.
BPS head Rusman Heriawan said this drop was recorded even though the government raised the poverty line to Rp 233,740 ($27.35) per capita per month from Rp 211,726 last yea r .
Despite the raised figure, the definition of poverty still worried experts. “The poverty line indicator is the minimum income for people to survive,” said Bambang Shergi Laksmono, dean of the University of Indonesia’s Social and Political Science Faculty.
“[But the standard] is still too low. It might be the minimum standard, but it doesn’t mean it can meet the basic needs of humans.”
Sri Palupi, director of the Institute for Ecosoc Rights, said these figures meant little as the indicators were ridiculous.
“Could we really live with less than one dollar a day?” Sri Palupi said. “The indicators don’t accurately paint a picture of the reality of poverty in Indonesia. So, I think the data does not represent the truth of poverty conditions.”
The one million reduction was also considered small in the light of the government’s seemingly large poverty reduction efforts, ranging from nine free years of basic education and health insurance schemes to cash handout programs and microcredit schemes.
“With an annual economic growth of 6.5 percent, a decrease of one million is very small in comparison to the effort made by the government to reduce it,” Bambang said. “We can’t be happy with the percentage, because it only reflects absolute poverty. We need to analyze the relative poverty, the gap between the rich people and the poor people that is getting wider and wider.”
Bambang said the small reduction rate could be because thousands more are being marginalized and pushed beneath the poverty line. “Government programs to tackle poverty are only directed at the critically poor,” he said. “On the other hand, there are increasingly new poor people, those that have been marginalized by development.”
Henny Warsilah, a sociologist from the Indonesian Institute of Science, said the poverty programs were also not entirely effective. “Those who get the cash, for example, are those who are close to the community leaders,” Henny said. “Many school-age children in cities are still on streets instead of studying at schools. Many poor people are still being rejected by hospitals.”
To handle this problem, Bambang said the government needs to develop programs to not only solve but to also prevent poverty.
“Pro-people programs such as protecting farmers is needed in terms of land management and limiting agriculture land conversion,” Bambang said. “Many paddy fields turn into housing that shift people’s occupation from productive work into service work, such as security.”