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Poverty and Indonesia

This village has no running water and the 115 families share 4 toilets

This village has no running water and the 115 families share 4 toilets

I’ve spent the past 3 weeks travelling in Java, Lombok and Gili Trawangan with my family of 4, including two young children. The two weeks before that we travelled in Malaysia and it’s been interesting to compare and contrast these two neighbouring countries that share a common language. I have written blog posts daily over the 5 week holiday and these can be found under the Travel menu. At the end of our time in Malaysia I researched poverty and development goals in Malaysia so I present here a similar analysis for Indonesia.

Indonesia now has the largest economy in Southeast Asia and its economy continues to grow steadily.

Steady economic growth has led to a gradual reduction in overall poverty in the country, which has fallen from 17 per cent in 2004 to 12.5 per cent in 2011. 

About half of the population of Indonesia lives just above the national poverty line, which is set at 200,262 rupiahs per month ($22 USD) although this number seems to be arbitrary and is significantly lower than the $2/day specified by Asia Development Bank. More important than income is whether a person can meet their basic needs and this is difficult to measure (as discussed by Professor Handayani here).

These ‘near poor’ households are vulnerable and can easily be driven into poverty due to food price increases, environmental hazards, and ill health. Indonesia’s economy has now reached middle-income status but high rates of child malnutrition and maternal mortality, and inadequate access to education, safe water and sanitation are persistent problems among poor communities.

Indonesia is striving to meet Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 but some goals may be impossible to meet. For example, in 2009 there were 307 deaths for every 100,000 live births, while the MDG aims to reduce this to 105 deaths by 2015. Similarly the MDG for maternal mortality is unlikely to be met. The UNDP report on the status of Indonesia and the MDGs (citation below) states that Indonesia is also on track to achieve its goals of providing its population with safe drinking water by 2015. However, the trajectory is dismal in terms of providing the population with proper basic sanitation (and you can read about my own observations of sanitation here). Currently 68% of the population have access to improved sanitation facilities but the MDG target is 86%.

“[In] Indonesia … 63 million people don’t have toilets,” said Angela Kearney, the Unicef representative to Indonesia

Around 70% of Indonesians live in rural areas with Agriculture as the main source of income, and these populations are most vulnerable to poverty. Most farmers only produce enough food to meet subsistence needs but problems such as environmental degradation are leading to an exodus towards cities and hence an increase in urban poverty. The country produces crops with a potentially high market value such as cocoa, coffee, nutmeg and cloves, but there has not been the level of investment in management, processing and marketing systems necessary to expand production and take full advantage of the value.

Women in Indonesia are particularly vulnerable to poverty; they have less access to education, they earn less than men, and are subject to discrimination and exclusion from decision-making processes within households and communities.

As a result of the Asian financial crisis of 1997 the situation for many of Indonesia’s urban poor worsened due to high inflation and lower or lost income. With rising adult unemployment, inevitably the children are forced to join the workforce to keep the family from starvation. About 30 percent of Indonesia’s population (240 million people) is under the age of 15. The International Labour Organization estimates that 3.2 million young people, between the ages of 10 and 15, are working in harsh, unsafe conditions. Children this age often do not have access to education and must work to assist their impoverished families.

By far the majority of impoverished Indonesian people live on the island of Java with 46% of rural poor and 68% of the urban poor of Indonesia, presumably due to the influx of villagers to the large cities of Java. If Indonesia is considered to consist of 6 islands, the island with the highest proportion of city people and the 2nd highest proportion of rural people living in poverty is Bali and Nusa Tenggara (the highest by far is Maluku and Papua). In my own travels in Lombok and Gili Trawangan (part of Nusa Tenggara) I’ve seen a stark mix of impoverished villages of dirt with grass and rattan huts, other villages with some signs of wealth evident such as televisions, satellite dishes, and occasional rendered brick houses, and massive villas and 5 star resorts.

In our travels through the west of Malaysia we noticed a marked decrease in the smoking of cigarettes, and similar prohibitions on smoking near eateries etc as in Australia, compared to our previous trip to Malaysia in 2006. Conversely in Indonesia smoking is very common, to the extent that the Indonesian bureau of statistics calculated that cigarettes are the 2nd highest ranking commodity whose price fluctuations can influence the stability of near poor households (the highest is rice). We saw giant posters advertising cigarettes and the lifestyle benefits of smoking displayed everywhere even in tiny dirty villages and one advertised their pack of cigarettes as costing less than $0.80!

Information sources:,,contentMDK:23195498~menuPK:141310~pagePK:34370~piPK:34424~theSitePK:4607,00.html–en/index.htm


7 comments on “Poverty and Indonesia

  1. Pingback: Farewell Nusa Tenggara | strivetoengage

  2. Gwen Tuinman
    February 10, 2014

    I would first like to say that I appreciate the care with which your articles are written. Your passion for people is always evident.

    As a woman who resides in a privileged country, I am heart broken to see these statistics about infant mortality. Pre and post natal care is so important and we take it so for granted. Thank you for raising my awareness.

    • strivetoengage
      February 10, 2014

      Wow Gwen, many thanks for the warm positive comments! I too can’t bear to see such statistics and I only hope that as Indonesia’s economy continues to steadily grow, the government will bring about huge improvements to public health.

      • Gwen Tuinman
        February 10, 2014

        Here here. See you again soon.

  3. Pingback: Book review – A Short History of Indonesia | strivetoengage

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