For the Jakarta Post, 18 September 2011
It is an annual ritual. Now that the post-Ramadhan festival is over, migrants who left Jakarta for Idul Fitri (Eid) have been returning to Jakarta.
Many of them have brought relatives and friends with them to Jakarta. The Jakarta government has been scaring the new migrants, particularly the unskilled, away from the city.
Efforts to ban the new migrants may intensify in coming months as the government wants to cap Jakarta’s population at 12 million by 2030.
Should the government close Jakarta?
Jakarta’s population reached 9.6 million people in 2010, as a result of an annual growth rate of 1.3 percent between 2000 and 2010. If the rate remains stable until 2030, the population will hit 12.5 million people in 2030, exceeding the maximum target.
However, this simple projection is too high. Because of under-estimation by 2000 population census, the annual growth rate of 1.3 percent between 2000 and 2010 has been over estimated.
Moreover, my own projections in 1992 showed that Jakarta would be home to 11.9 million people in 2010. A dissertation by Salahudin Muhidin in 2002 predicted an even larger population number, 14.7 million people, in 2010. This means the actual size of Jakarta’s population has been smaller than projections. Therefore, I do not think the Jakarta population will reach 12 million in 2030.
A rising number of people has often been blamed for social problems in Jakarta. It is therefore expected that limiting population growth would solve many social and economic problems. It’s true, however, that a huge population aggravates social and economic problems.
However, the underlying, fundamental, issues are somewhere else. Without any radical changes in the way we manage fundamental issues, such as transportation, clean water, affordable housing and corruption eradication, even a declining population of 9.6 million people will not help Jakarta.
In addition, the government should not worry about population numbers as they will remain below the limit of 12 million people in 2030. The government can focus more on fundamental issues.
Currently, the government insists on further curbing population growth using three policies. First, the government wants to continue bringing down the fertility rate.
However, the fertility rate has dropped below the replacement level since 1990s. Without migration, the population in Jakarta will reach its peak in 2035 and decline after that. Jakarta will suffer from a shortage of young workers as experienced by cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong.
Therefore, Jakarta will need more migrants to increase the number of younger people. Otherwise, Jakarta will face the burden of supporting and taking care of its older persons. In 2010, the elderly accounted for only 5.15 percent of Jakarta’s population, despite the relatively low level of fertility.
The heavy flow of migrants, who are usually young, has prevented Jakarta from becoming an aging population. Family planning programs should be continued in Jakarta, but not for the purpose of reducing the already low fertility rate.
The second policy the government needs is to prevent people, particularly the poor, from migrating to Jakarta. It may not feasible because Jakarta is very porous. Even if it works, the policy is not fair and is discriminatory. Closing Jakarta to the poor will hurt the sense of justice among Indonesians outside Jakarta.
The third option is promoting transmigration or resettlement of Jakarta’s population to outside the city. It is repeating the old national program aimed at moving population from the crowded islands of Java and Bali to the relatively sparsely populated islands outside Java and Bali.
The government says migrant settlers will not work in agriculture like their predecessors, but in the service sector, particularly business. Engineered out-migration from Jakarta is a very interesting policy. If successful, it can redistribute the wealth from Jakarta to other parts of Indonesia.
To make the program successful, the government should work closely with related regional governments, by disseminating information on potential business opportunities outside Jakarta. This information will not only attract the people of Jakarta to migrate to other parts of Indonesia, but also slow down migration to Jakarta.
Though transmigration can be a feasible way to reduce Jakarta population growth, the city administration should not believe that it will solve the complex issues in Jakarta. Addressing annual flooding, daily traffic congestion, difficulty in finding affordable houses and corrupt mentality are more pressing than putting a halt to population growth.
More importantly, Jakarta should never be a closed city. (*)