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Indonesia stays Java-centric despite infrastructure drive

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Development of a toll road connecting North Sumatra provincial capital Medan to Tebing Tinggi, a chartered city near the eastern coast of the Indonesian province. THE JAKARTA POST

Indonesia stays Java-centric despite infrastructure drive

Despite the emergence of new urban centres on other islands, the Indonesian population of over 270 million people remains concentrated on Java as other islands still fail to catch up with the development achieved on the country’s most populous island.

Java had roughly 151.6 million people, or around 56.1 per cent of the population, as of September, according to Statistics Indonesia’s (BPS) latest population census. In contrast, the population of Kalimantan, which has an area four times larger than Java, accounted for 6.15 per cent of the total population.

“Inequality in development is one of the factors behind the unequal population distribution,” BPS researcher Nashrul Wajdi told The Jakarta Post on May 22. “Java remains a ‘magnet’ for migrants from outside the island.”

The concentration of population follows the unequal distribution of Indonesia’s gross domestic product (GDP). Java’s economic output accounted for 58.7 per cent of the country’s GDP in the January-March period, followed by Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Bali and Nusa Tenggara, as well as Maluku and Papua.

The government has sought to shift the population distribution with the transmigration programme, from the time of the Dutch colonial government until that of the President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo administration.

Between 1971 and 1990, the share of Java’s population declined by around two percentage points and that of Sumatra and Kalimantan got larger. However, the pace of the shift in the population distribution to islands outside Java has plateaued since 2000, with Sulawesi, Bali and Nusa Tenggara showing a slowdown.

“The fast trend in migration outside Java before the 2000s was a result of the transmigration programme aimed at engineering the population redistribution,” Chotib, a mobility researcher at the Demographic Institute of the University of Indonesia’s (UI) School of Economics and Business, told the Post.

“After the 2000s, migration outside Java was more natural as a response to economic opportunities in the destination region.”

In 1949, then-president Sukarno sought to move 48 million people out of Java over 35 years, according to Nashrul. But even after stretching the period to between 1905 and 2010, the transmigration programme had migrated only 7.9 million people.

“As long as there are inequalities in social and economic development, restriction and configuration [policies] related to population mobility appear to have a very small impact on migration,” said Nashrul.

Jokowi has implemented more expansive programmes to develop infrastructure on islands outside of Java. Under his watch, the government has developed major road projects such as the trans-Papua, as well as roads in the peripheral areas of Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Sumatra. It has also developed new industrial zones, also known as special economic zones, on islands other than Java.

But the infrastructure campaign has yet to show significant impacts.

Migrants between provinces were found to be more responsive to what researchers call “pull factors”, which are conditions such as higher income per person and better job opportunities that make a particular destination province more attractive than one’s home province.

Provinces with higher income per person tend to have a larger inflow of migrants relative to the population, such as Jakarta, East Kalimantan, Riau Islands, North Kalimantan and Riau. Conversely, the proportion of migrants coming in is smaller in provinces with lower income per person, such as East Nusa Tenggara, Maluku and West Nusa Tenggara.

For recent migrants, whose current place of living is different from that of five years ago, nearly 62 per cent worked in the service sector, followed by manufacturing and agriculture, according to the 2019 national social and economic survey (Susenas) of 320,000 households by BPS. Although the majority of migrants worked in the labour force, over one-third did not.

The net lifetime migration relative to the total population, which indicates a province’s population growth as a result of migration, was highest in Riau Islands at 50 per cent, followed by North Kalimantan, the survey also found. Riau Islands has the Batam free trade zone and North Kalimantan is the largest oil and gas producing province.

The government’s plan to develop a new capital city in North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kartanegara regencies in East Kalimantan has renewed the expectation to nudge more people to move into the province.

Nawawi said the new capital city might only induce a temporary migration if it only moved the centre of government without generating a new economic centre. On the other hand, Chotib said the new capital city was expected to speed up the balancing of population redistribution.

Regardless, pursuing a redistribution policy without improving the distribution of the economic pie risks perpetuating the cycle of population concentration, since provinces with a higher population density tend to have higher income per person.

“The consequence of a population too concentrated in a region clearly has an impact on the distribution and the pace of economic growth between regions,” said Chotib.

“Of course, provinces with a more concentrated population will have more attractive economic activities, which lead to faster economic growth.”



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