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Jakarta as a healthy city and points to celebrate.

Posted by pungkasali on June 13, 2010

Children need space to grow

Jakarta as a healthy city and points to celebrate

Pungkas Bahjuri Ali, Canberra | Sat, 06/12/2010 10:03 AM | The Jakarta Post  Opinion

(the picture is my own ilustration)

The city and its urban vicinity is becoming home to a growing population. Since 2007, more than half of the world’s population is living in urban areas. This figure should grow in coming years.

Indonesia’s population is urbanized as well. Consider this figure. In 2000, there were four provinces in which more than half of its population were living in urban areas. Now, the figure has increased to 11 provinces. By the end of 2025, almost two thirds of Indonesia’s population will be living in urban areas.

The population will definitely put much pressure on the city. For one thing, population requires a minimum standard to live healthily. And, second, there are many occasions when society and the government regime fail to response the population pressure.

Jakarta is a perfect example. The current population of Jakarta is 9 million (not to mention the 29 million population of Greater Jakarta who in one way or another contribute to Jakarta’s burden on the environment).

It has been a 3,000 percent explosion in the last two centuries. There are two sources of explosion: high fertility rate and high in-migration. Recently the fertility rate has been reduced moderately, but the influx of people from outside Jakarta is a never ending story.

From that history perspective can we imagine how Jakarta is now and was then? Is it becoming healthier?

Jakarta’s resources of land, water and air has been fiercely under pressure by various interests, putting its population at risk. Despite mushrooming skyscrapers, modern hotels and hyper malls, lack of safe drinking water and access to sanitation are prevalent, especially those in the low income community living in the shadow of those luxurious buildings.

This explains why today Jakarta is colored by a great deal of communicable diseases such as diarrhea, dengue fever, tuberculosis and other water-borne diseases; a very similar problem, if not worse, to those faced by early Batavia inhabitants.

To support a healthy living, the design of the city should encourage an active lifestyle. Parks, open spaces, sport facilities and bike tracks are some examples of enabling factors that urban planning should consider seriously. It is unfortunate that those facilities are difficult to enjoy in Jakarta.

This problem would not be that severe, should the city authority be willing to take significant action.

There is some progress in various infrastructure developments. However, surely that is not bold enough to respond to the pressure from population growth. An integrated transport system, leaded gasoline elimination and tap water provision, to name a few, are some measures that have clearly been left behind.

There are also many intangible factors that are crucial for our healthy living, and often are forgotten. Food consumption behavior is one.

Jakarta is facing two battle fronts regarding food related diseases, i.e. malnutrition. In 2007, about 13 percent of children under five years of age suffered from malnutrition. This is a sad fact considering Jakarta’s best place in the nation in the overall health status rank. Aggregate indicators overshadow the fact that there are significant numbers of people living in poverty. Slum areas exist side by side with the glamorous Jakarta life.

While malnutrition is highly correlated with poverty, concern on food safety threatens the rich and poor alike. Street food, either as a snack or as a replacement of a main meal, is very often not safe to our children due to unhygienic handling, intolerable food additives, and having an imbalance of nutrient values.

Cheap in price, very palatable (packed with sugars, salt and fat) and seductively brightly colored, unsafe street foods are clearly a threat to our health.

On the other side of the story, for those who can afford to taste various delicacies also risk their health to high calories and low fiber food.  They are linked to ever increasing chronic diseases such as hypertension and stroke.  More than 29 percent of Jakarta’s adult population has clinically suffered from hypertension and 12 percent has suffered from stroke. Others, such as diabetes and cancer also lurk for those who practice unhealthy behavior.

An unplanned city can be dangerous to our health. Whether developing infrastructure or promoting healthy behavior, urban planning is key in creating a healthy city. It should encourage its citizen to eat a balanced diet and be physically active.

Many cities have taken the step in declaring war on high calorie (sugar and fat) and high salt foods, promoting more consumption of fruit and vegetables and at the same time promoting active living.

Children’s playgrounds, open spaces, and bike and jogging paths are more examples of what should be pursued by a city. In practice, many advanced cities choose to provide bike racks at bus terminals, as well as public car parks at a walking distance from the office complex. Bike paths are encouraging in Ottawa, Canada and Canberra, Australia, for instance.

Formerly not designed to contain 9 million people, Jakarta’s urban planning should be examined to see if it promotes a healthy lifestyle and can keep up with population pressure.

We are eager to see Jakarta leap up from its current rank as the 123rd most livable city (of 140 cities) in the world. If this becomes the case, we have reason to celebrate.

The writer is a PhD candidate at the Australian Demography and Social Research Institute, the Australian National University, Canberra.


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