Jakarta’s Rich Get Richer and Poor Get Poorer
Alexandra Di Stefano Pironti
Living without basic necessities like clean water, nutritious food, health care, education and shelter, 29-year-old Parwan fits the dictionary definition of absolute poverty.
She does not, however, fit the definition of the Indonesian government, which sets the poverty line at Rp 7,800 (about 83 US cents) per day, less than half the line drawn by the World Bank, which defines poverty in Indonesia as living on less than two dollars a day.
In the South Jakarta slum of Ciliwung, which stretches along a fetid river bank, Parwan survives in a one-room shack shared with his wife and baby girl. He supports his family on a little more than Rp 700,000 a month which places him just above the government’s poverty line.
But he and tens of millions like him in a country of 240 million, which boasts of being Southeast Asia’s largest and fastest growing economy, are unlikely to get a helping hand from authorities who do not even acknowledge their poverty.
“Since September 2011, our national poverty line has been 243,729 rupiah per capita per month,” welfare ministry spokesman Tito Setiavan said.
That neat bit of arithmetic has wiped tens of millions of poor off the slate. According to government statistics from September 2011, about 30 million people, or 12 percent of the population, live below the poverty line. The World Bank, in accordance with the Asian Development Bank, contends that half the population lives below the line, or on less than two dollars a day.
Binny Buchori, senior adviser for the Center for Welfare Studies in Indonesia, said that frequent government claims that poverty is in decline do not take into account people living on the very margins of the poverty line.
“Whenever prices rise, many more people fall in the category of the poor,” Buchori said.
In a country where rice is a must-have staple of the diet, costing the equivalent of 85 US cents per kilogram, even this basic commodity is out of reach for the myriad poor. A cheap meal of rice, egg, and vegetables at a roadside food stall, called a warung, costs Rp 10,000.
“Many low-income workers in Indonesia are only able to eat once per day. They will have fried banana for breakfast, a simple meal of noodles for lunch and maybe another banana for dinner,” Buchori said.
Indonesia’s malnutrition has resulted in moderate to severe stunting in 40 percent of children under age 5, according to a report by the Save the Children.
While expensive shopping malls, luxury cars and high-rise buildings are mushrooming in the country, slums and beggars seem to be growing just as quickly.
“Wealth and poverty are both on the rise. The challenge is the distribution of wealth,” Buchori said. “One way to fix that is by paying taxes, but there is no will on the part of the government to implement it.”
Education, the magic road out of poverty for many around the world, is often a dead end in Indonesia.
Indonesia has a 95 percent enrollment rate in primary school, but that drops to a mere 58 percent when pupils reach their secondary education, according to government statistics.
“There are many drop-outs from high school and only 6 percent of the population completes university,” Buchori noted.
The Asian Development Bank says that Indonesia is the only country in Southeast Asia where poverty is on the rise, despite an annual economic growth rate of about 6 percent that has been attributed to domestic consumption among an expanding middle class.
The combined wealth of Indonesia’s 40 richest people is equivalent to that of about 60 million of its poorest citizens, or more than 10 percent of its GDP, according to recent statistics.
Inter Press Service