Rawe-Rawe Rantas, Malang-Malang Tuntas

Quest for A Better Life

Changing faces of the population; not so much a policy.

Posted by pungkasali on May 14, 2011

Pungkas Bahjuri Ali

The population of Indonesia has gone through a remarkable journey, the latest 2010 decennial census revealed. Aside from the number which has grown 187 percent since 1955, the faces of the population have changed dramatically.

Year 1955 marked the first Five Year Development Plan (Repelita).  During that period, Indonesia population was dominated by younger cohorts at the bottom of a pyramid-like structure. People mostly lived in rural and relied on agriculture. The barrier of transportation and communication was immense, making the mobility among regions very much limited. And the quality of the people as shown by per-capita GDP, education attainment, and life expectancy was far below of todays.

In contrast, today’s population is flourished by supply of labour force. Elderly is growing fast, both in nominal and proportion. More people reside in urban areas, and mobility is something a daily routine. Education has been enjoyed by most of young population, notably women, closing gender disparity. Increased GDP per capita has also brought Indonesia into a ring of middle income countries.

The population has embarked so many changes, so has the policy at hand; we would have expected. The current discourse from politicians, however, tells different stories.

Soon after census released a confirmed number at 237 million, some key politicians have speedily jumped into a racetrack to prevail the discourse. The most obvious ones would be views on uncontrollable growth and unequal spatial distribution of the population.

Just a few weeks back, the Head of Population and Family Planning Board, which is now in charge of population policy, was worried – or intentionally to make people worry – the population could reach 450 million by 2045.

With all due respect, this statement is scientifically baseless.

As for now, there is no projection, even with its highest growth scenario, come close to that number. Yet, the issue is pounded consistently to media and to a wider audience to draw politic supports on the need of re-strengthening family planning program, the core competence of former BKKBN.

As a result we view the population is now, as it was then, merely a problem. A misleading view, of course. It overshadows many other important problems, not to mention so many potentials of having huge of population.

On the problems, there are groups of population that until now, unintentionally, are overlooked by the government policy. One crucial group is young adult (14-29 years old) which accounts for more than a quarter of the population. They will undergo the most important transition in their life cycle: finishing their school, getting a job, getting married, and starting a new family.

What would happen if they are under-qualified or there are no enough jobs to offer?  One possible path way would be insecurity, as what currently takes place in Somalia and many other Africa countries, where the state unable to solve structural unemployment.

At the end of the spectrum, the population is aging. So far, we are lacking of sound policy for elderly, partly because it is a ‘no-man’s land’. With the definite grow of the elderly, there will be immense pressure to overlay measures in social security, pension, social support, health care, and tax pooling. There are many more, and the list can be so long, so that we can’t even begin to remember them all together.

On the second issue of population distribution, the Coordinating Minister of People Welfare (and he was supported by the medium and long term government plan) concerned that the population is distributed unequally i.e. Java – non-Java and urban –rural imbalances.  So the government needs, he argued, to make the distribution balance.

It is not an accidental when the same view of has triggered transmigration program in early 1950s. If transmigration were truly intended to balance the population, it definitely has failed. The entire transmigration has only been able to move a tiny portion of Java population.

It is unclear what the options now are, although transmigration is obviously on a shredder mouth.

But, there is fundamental fallacy here. Imbalance distribution, by itself, of population is not a problem. The distribution of development and infrastructure is.

The more modern the society is, the more likely they live a more developed place where infrastructure is adequate. And that place would be a city and/or Java. Most of population in the developed world are living the city and other urban areas. This trend will continue, even when no single person moving to the city. Urbanization is not a solely right of people; it also a matter of technical definition.

Issues on overpopulation and imbalance distribution are nothing new. The very same statements were strategically placed as a mainstream in the first chapter of the first Repelita.

There is a difference, though. Now the issues have been pinned down under a comfort zone of particular institutions. Those are institutions which are inert to changes and ideas outside their existing expertise and competence.
All in all, something is remarkable. Despite a great deal of change, the perspective of population stays on for six decades!

If the population is nothing but a problem of growth and distribution, the future of our population will certainly difficult to develop, because it is built out of – to borrow Robert Malthus – vice and misery.

This would be our greatest fear.  The implication of a reduced form of policy is wide and far reaching.

The issues on population now, are far more complex. There are more problems, blessings, or both. It is the job of politicians, with help from demographers, to put all viable and exhaustive options on the table.

Therefore, it is necessary that the policy is updated and is not taken for granted.

Canberra, 14 May 2010

One Response to “Changing faces of the population; not so much a policy.”

  1. Herman said

    Well written. Nothing more to add / subtract from this fine article!

    I’m thinking really hard on population now. It reminds me that as long as education is low in Indo, birth rate would be high, and population will keep growing. Social infrastructures would not keep up, would they? And as the burden is heavier for the govt to upgrade the infrastructures, the more reluctant they would be. Thus talk x 3, action = 0.

    The only way to tackle over-population is to spend more on education. Couples would have less kids. Parents stay together longer. Children would petition for local councils to improve their towns (and reduce pollution, etc). Hopefully the future is in better hands.

    Not simple to think about. Encouraging, but dreading at the same time. *sigh* (it squeakes out)

    Thanks for the good read.

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