Poverty in Rural Indonesia

Poverty in Indonesia

21.4 per cent of Indonesians are currently living in absolute poverty as defined by the United Nations. These people are lacking access to at least two of the Indicators of Poverty and Hunger; medical care during serious illness and pregnancy, clean and adequate shelter, education, communications and safe drinking water. An additional 53.8 per cent are living in relative poverty, able to provide these essentials but constantly at risk of slipping below the poverty line.

The paradox of rural poverty

Poverty in Indonesia and throughout the world focuses in rural areas, with around 23.6 million rural Indonesians living below the poverty line as defined by Statistics Indonesia. As the World Bank notes, three quarters of the world’s poor are rural farmers. This statistic reflects on three out of five Indonesians, who live in rural areas where farming is the main occupation. Many people tend small areas of their own land or that of their neighbors, unable to achieve food self-sufficiency due to a lack of farming knowledge and property rights.

Many of these subsistence farmers are women who are also responsible for domestic duties and may be deprived of decision-making and equal pay.

How natural catastrophes hinder

Poverty in rural Indonesia is exacerbated by natural disasters. The two concepts are linked by the damage natural catastrophes do to infrastructure including sanitation, electricity and water facilities. Indonesia suffers from all three types of natural disasters – windstorms, floods and earthquakes.

Climate change may contribute to the frequency of natural disasters, which have been rapidly increasing in number and severity over the period of 1990-2010. During the 1990s the number of naturally occurring disasters increased five-fold and the damages from these catastrophes increased by a factor of nine. While the developed world bears the same costs for damage due to natural disasters as the developing world (around USD 35 billion), the gap between the Gross Domestic Product in these two regions is what makes natural disasters in the third world especially devastating.

Fragile infrastructure in hazard-prone areas is one of the key factors for the increased economic and social costs of natural disasters. Many people, not only the deprived, in rural areas live in inadequate housing not built to withstand natural catastrophes. As more and more infrastructure is built in rural areas to tackle poverty, floods and earthquakes increase in severity. And as natural disasters increase in severity, the need for disaster risk reduction and risk transfer becomes clearer.

Looking up

Indonesia has stated that to fulfill the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) would be categorically impossible. However, the number of Indonesians living in absolute poverty has decreased by one million since 1996 and the country has improved on many indicators since then. Since 1990 the country’s infant mortality rate has declined by 16 per cent, access to improved water sources is now a reality for 86 per cent of people (up 10 per cent) and there is a growing trend of women moving away from agricultural work. Literacy rates in young women have increased from 79 to 87 per cent and more and more births are being attended by trained healthcare professionals. Life expectancy has grown quite amazingly, from 43 in the 1970s to 70.5 in 2008. And despite the significance of the problem, things are improving.

Pekerti’s place

Pekerti began with a vision of a better life for Indonesia’s rural poor. This has grown into a mentality of ‘whatever we do, we do with our producers in mind’. Our main interest is in learning and using all the tools at our disposal to improve our development efforts in rural Indonesia. Rather than giving money, we prefer to share our skills in the hope that people will hold on to them and perhaps even pass them on. This means we are responsible for taking an individual approach with our beneficiaries, making sure our training and reconstruction activities are effective and sustainable. The resulting effects we have seen are real impacts on individual lives, and this is what keeps motivating us to plan for a better future.

Sources: International Fund for Agricultural Development, 2007
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, 1999
World Bank, 2010