Evi Nurvidya Arifin
For the ISEAS Viewpoints, 3 September 2010
2010 is the year of census. Some observers and officials in Indonesia have been alarmed with the release of the preliminary results of the 2010 population census. A return of the feared population explosion in Indonesia! The president has even been criticized for not dwelling further on this issue.
The fear started on 16 August 2010, when the President of Republic Indonesia in his state of the nation address mentioned, among other things, that Indonesia’s population reached 237.6 million in 2010. This is based on the preliminary report of the 2010 Population Census conducted three months earlier. This number has shocked some observers on Indonesian population. The census shows that the number of population in 2010 is 5.1 million more than the number confidently projected by the UN. In other words, during the celebration of the 65thanniversary of their independence, Indonesians received a bonus of an additional 5.1 million population, even larger than the whole population of Singapore. No wonder that some observers have even warned of the coming of another population explosion in Indonesia.
What happened to Indonesia’s population? Is the fear reasonable? Is there any, or going to be, another population explosion as happened 30 or 40 years ago? Or, it is a “normal” fluctuation in the trajectory of Indonesian population?
Let us look at a projection of Indonesian population we made 16 years ago, in 1994, for the period of 1995-2025. We produced four scenarios, including our chosen scenario, the one we guessed as the most likely to occur. In our chosen scenario, the population of Indonesia would reach 235.1 million in 2010. Therefore, with this scenario, the above “bonus” has actually shrunk into only 2.5 million. Furthermore, with our four scenarios, the interval of our projection for the year 2010 is between 224.0 million and 242.2 million. In other words, the result of the 2010 population census of the 237.6 million lies within our projected interval. Therefore, in our opinion, the result of the recent census is not really surprising.
How about BPS (Badan Pusat Statistik- Statistics Indonesia), the agency who is responsible to conduct the population censuses throughout the archipelago? BPS used to also publish several scenarios in its projection. However, we heard that some users, particularly policy makers, were not comfortable with reading several scenarios of population projection. They wanted to be told only one scenario. Then, BPS started publishing only one scenario. Actually, BPS has so many scenarios, but it has since chosen to publish only what it believes as the most likely scenario. With this habit of only producing one scenario, in 2007, BPS projected that the population of Indonesia would reach 234.2 million in 2010— 1.7 million more than the UN’s projection.
Now, let us allow some uncertainty to the projection of BPS and the result of the population census. We make the uncertainty as an interval between plus and minus 1.0 percent. With this approach, the projection will be between 231.9 million and 236.5 million, while the census results will be between 235.2 million and 240.0 million. Clearly, the two intervals overlapped, implying that the two are not really different. These two intervals are also within our four scenarios. In other words, the “bonus” for our independence day has been actually shrinking to a very small number. In a nutshell, Indonesia is not likely to have the feared population explosion as happened 30 or 40 years ago. Indeed, Indonesia’ fertility level has been below replacement level and, therefore, any fluctuation in fertility rate will not result in a dramatic jump in the rate. Moreover, the large number of population has now been seen as an attractive market and strong production base for the region and world.
Nevertheless, it is important to understand that a population projection is not a target, nor showing an ideal condition. Scenarios of population projections simply show what will happen if certain sets of assumptions are followed, without saying good or bad scenario.
Whether the similarity between the projection and result of the census is good or bad for Indonesia is a different question. By the same token, the difference in the projection and reality does not automatically imply that there is something wrong in the government policies. To avoid confusion for the users, including policy makers, we recommend that BPS produce some of their many scenarios of population projection. BPS may choose its five most likely scenarios. Users and policy makers should also learn that these scenarios are not supposed to tell what Indonesia should do. It only provides scenarios or alternatives. Policy makers should then choose the scenario they like to happen and prepare policies and programs to make this scenario a reality.
If BPS continues to publish one scenario, the users (including policy makers) may be led to think that the projected number is the one the government programs should be directed at. By publishing several scenarios and informing the public on the nature of population projection, BPS will be able to avoid mis-understanding of the statistics. Indonesia should not worry about the return of population explosion.