Thursday, October 25, 2007

Is anti-urban-migration growing?

Jakarta's hate for new incoming migrants from rural areas seems to be spreading.

Now the government of Cilegon, an industrial city in Banten, expects new migrants to provide cash collateral to the municipality. Meanwhile, in Serang, people who don't have local ID cards are facing a fine of Rp 50 million (~USD 5,000) or six months of jail.

Can't the national government (i.e. the ministry of law and human rights) do something about this?

From wheat to web

Nature News has a good profile on M.S. Swaminathan and portrays a balanced view of the current state of India's "ICT for rural development" initiatives.

Still, what we have are anecdotes. After more than a decade of ICT for development initiatives, shouldn't we have hard data already?

Ashok Jhunjhunwala, head of the Telecom and Networks Group (TeNeT) at the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai, [...] says that the dozens of ICT projects across the country are a series of ongoing experiments, “some of which have worked”, he says, but “most of which haven't”.

“You'll hear about a village where ICTs have helped farmers get a better price for grain, or a village where someone has got better access to health care, but these are all anecdotal cases and don't represent the majority of ICT projects,” says Jhunjhunwala.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Papua Governor: environment hero

In this recent post, I applauded Papua Governor Barnabas Suebu for his commitment to preserve Papua's forests through carbon credit.

Now Mr. Suebu has been named by TIME as one of the 43 Heroes of the Environment 2007. Other heroes include Mikhail Gorbachev, Al Gore, Prince Charles (huh?), and the Toyota Design Team. Guardian's Climate Change has a quick and short recap of this year's heroes, who come from 4 categories:
  1. Leaders and visionaries,
  2. Activists,
  3. Scientists and innovators,
  4. Moguls and entrepreneurs.
However, as Climate Change pointed out: there are only 7 females among the 43 names.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Would you prefer rice or cement?

Another rice producing region will be gone soon. This time we're talking about Kecamatan Bayah, Kabupaten Lebak, Banten - an area dubbed "rice deposit" by Kompas. Next year, Bayah may be replaced by a complex of Boral cement factories.

It's interesting that the most urbanized and urbanizing area in Indonesia is Java - which is also the most fertile and productive area for rice-growing. My colleague and I once tried to find data on how much productive rice fields (sawah, not just any agriculture areas) in Java have been converted into urban areas. We didn't succeed.

On the one hand, it's ironic that we have all this fuss about the pros and cons of rice import, but we're quite calm about another productive rice field being converted into urban/industrial functions. When it comes to this, it seems that we only care about the amount of money being paid to farmers/landowners to purchase the land, not about the loss of fertile land. [My personal take is that landowners shouldn't be paid 100% in cash - but some of the payment should be in the form of stocks or bonds.]

On the other hand, should we let this happen - considering/assuming that cement has more value than rice?

Bayah seems to be growing economically. Kompas reports the increase in gold shops, electronic stores, franchise minimarkets, and hotels over the past few years. They wonder whether these may be related to Bayah's readiness to welcome PT. Boral Indonesia, the envisaged economic locomotive of South Banten.

Stop stopping them from coming to Jakarta!

Every year after the Idul Fitri holidays, the Jakarta government conducts Operasi Yustisi. That's the hunt down of "illegal" migrants coming into Jakarta from Indonesia's rural areas. This year is no different. The sad legacy, unfortunately, is kept by Jakarta's new Governor, Fauzi Bowo.

Mr. Bowo cites Jakarta Bylaw no. 4/2004 as the legal basis of this ironically named operation. He said, "Jakarta is dense enough already. Those who don't have a job and place to live will only burden the city." Illegal migrants (those who are caught without Jakarta ID card) will be fined Rp 5 million (~USD 500) or jailed for 3 months.

Of course, the policy is useless, as Supriatna argues. The poor (which is the reason they came to Jakarta in the first place) don't have that kind of money. And if they are "returned" to their original village, they are sure to come back as there is very few economic opportunity in rural areas. As bad the condition they face in the city, it is almost always much better than if they stayed back. That's called hope. And surely the hope is quite high, at least as high as the demand for low-skilled labor in big cities.

So it makes all sense to let the rural poor come into cities. So why oppose? Is it because we get sore eyes from seeing poor people in the streets? Is it because we don't want Jakarta to be more crowded and messy? Let's not forget: Most of us in Jakarta (at least our parents/ancestors) were once migrants, maybe as poor and as "kampungan" as the villagers are now. Who are we to now deny other people the opportunity that we've received in the past?

PS: This is what I wrote about this issue last year. Do I have to do this every year? Bring it on!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pedestrians as Anarchy

My friend and I talked at length the other day on anarchy. Initially were talking about squatters, and then he said, "You can't do whatever you want. That's chaos, that's anarchy!" Putting the discussion on squatting aside, I said anarchy does not necessarily mean chaos.

In case you haven't noticed, there is a lot of (created?) misunderstanding of big words here, just like communism is misunderstood as atheism. After arguing what anarchy really means (see some links on the right), I realized that I should have just quoted what James Surowiecki wrote about William Whyte in The Wisdom of Crowds. That should be easier. An example of simple anarchy in action, no chaos included.
No one has ever paid more attention to the streets and sidewalks of New York City than William H. Whyte... Whyte's work, which was eventually published in his book City, was full of fascinating ideas about architecture, urban design, and the importance to a city of keeping street life vibrant. It was also a paean to the urban pedestrian.

"The pedestrian is a social being," White wrote. "He is also a transportation unit, and a marvelously complex and efficient one." Pedestrians, Whyte showed, were able, even on crowded sidewalks, to move surprisingly fast without colliding with their neighbors. In fact, they were often at best when the crowds were at their biggest...

New Yorkers mastered arts like "the simple pass," which involved slowing ever so slightly in order to avoid a collision with an oncoming pedestrian. They platooned at crosswalks as a protection against traffic. In general, Whyte wrote, "They walk fast and they walk adroitly. They give and they take, at once aggressive and accommodating. With the subtlest of motions they signal their intentions to one another." The result was that "At eye level, the scene comes alive with movement and color - people walking quickly, walking slowly, skipping up steps, weaving in and out in crossing patterns, accelerating and retarding to match the moves of others. There is a beauty that is beguiling to watch."

What Whyte saw - and made us see - was the beauty of a well-coordinated crowd...

Anarchy is simple the absence of a ruler. And as the streets of New York shows, the absence of a ruler does not have to mean chaos. People - in many cases - can coordinate themselves beautifully.

PS: The picture above, is actually not of New York's pedestrians, but of Tokyo's. It's from UNFPA site.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The upper and lower ends of migrant working

Several articles on migrant working caught my eyes recently. Two op-eds in Kompas discussed the upper end of the issue: one in positive tone, arguing that professional and business migrants create international networks needed by the home country, the other in negative tone, arguing that 'brain drain' increases the gap between advanced and backward countries.

Interesting that Kompas presents both sides of the debate in relatively equal manner. Maybe the daily has yet to decide its own stand? Certainly migration is a sensitive topic. And the idea to let workers roam free across national borders is 'equally offensive to the left and the right' (as DeParle argues in Should We Globalize Labor Too?)

The latter statement was taken from the context of international development debate from the eyes of Lant Pritchett. He was talking about the lower end of migrant working, taking poor villagers in Nepal, like Gure Sarki, as case study:
Pritchett, a development economist and practiced iconoclast, has just left the World Bank to teach at Harvard and to help Google plan its philanthropic efforts on global poverty. In a recent trip through Chaurmuni [in Nepal], he praised the goats as community-driven development at its best: a fast, flexible way of delivering tangible aid to the poor. “But Nepal isn’t going to goat its way out of poverty,” he said. Nor does he think that as a small, landlocked country Nepal can soon prosper through trade.

To those standard solutions, trade and aid, Pritchett would add a third: a big upset-the-applecart idea, equally offensive to the left and the right. He wants a giant guest-worker program that would put millions of the world’s poorest people to work in its richest economies. Never mind the goats; if you really want to help Gure Sarki, he says, let him cut your lawn. Pritchett’s nearly religious passion is reflected in the title of his migration manifesto: “Let Their People Come.” It was published last year to little acclaim — none at all, in fact — but that is Pritchett’s point. In a world in which rock stars fight for debt relief and students shun sweatshop apparel, he is vexed to find no placards raised for the cause of labor migration. If goods and money can travel, why can’t workers follow? What’s so special about borders?

Yes, unfortunately the idea is still not popular. So how can I help, Lant?

PS: here are other articles by DeParle on border crossing: Jobs Abroad Support ‘Model’ State in India (Kerala), and A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves (Philippines).

Jakarta's blunt declaration against the poor

A new Jakarta bylaw on 'public order' will fine you up to Rp 20 million (~$ 2,000) if you give to beggars, street vendors, street performers, etc. Also, motorcycle taxis and bajajs are illegal, and bicycles and transvestites are put at a disadvantage. The reason for the Perda no.8/2007 is to 'safeguard Jakarta's image as the nation's capital'.
What crap.
The Poor People's Alliance has produced an article-by-article critique on the bylaw. UPC has issued a press release to reject it.

Fortunately, the Ministry of Home Affairs has agreed to review the bylaw, to check whether it violates public interest and any other law above it. And so has the Ministry of Law and Human Rights. We'll see what happens.

Monday, October 01, 2007

On Ecology and Economy

Feeling a bit hot lately? Well, blame it (correctly) on global warming. For me, the best thing about the global warming concept is that we're finally accepting how interconnected the world really is. You can't stop global warming only by, i.e. reducing greenhouse gases in one place. You gotta do it everywhere!

Photo source: Environmental Investigation Agency, "The Last Frontier: Illegal Logging in Papua and China's Massive Timber Theft. Quoted in

Economically unfortunate for developing countries, all this concern about global warming has only surfaced nowadays, just when they're on a roll of development/ industrialization. How could developing countries ever compete/catch-up with their developed counterparts if all this development has to be curbed now? How is it fair that developed countries could go so far ahead inter-alia through colonialism, slavery, environmental destruction (all these were 'acceptable' at the time) and now they ask third world nations to compete with them without all those evils shortcuts?

And how did the governments of Aceh, Papua, and West Papua (all forest-rich provinces in Indonesia), react to the call to protect their forests and possibly forego 'development' (read: profits from palm oil plantations)? Economically, of course! And rightly so. Learning from Costa Rica, Papua Governor Barnabas Suebu plans to preserve its forests with "carbon credits" (WSJ, subscription required):

His proposal: Have papua become an active player in the word's emerging carbon markets - a system of exchanges that let investors and companies buy and sell the right to pollute.

Mr. Suebu's plans for Papua are on a large scale. He has proposed to reserve more than half of the land targeted for development for protection. In the meantime, he has applied heavy brakes to the (palm oil) plantation companies' expansion aims, so far refusing to grant them permission to proceed with their planned developments.

"In my mind, we have to save the forests of Papua and make money from that," said Mr. Suebu, 61 years old. "I know that Indonesia doesn't care about the forest."

So suppose ecology and economy are no longer a dichotomy, and that the money actually does come in: is the problem solved? Marianne Klute of Watch Indonesia poses a good question: Who should benefit from the money?

Should it be the plantation companies, which need to forgo palm oil profits? Should it be the government budget which, under Indonesian law, owns the forest? Or the special autonomous provinces? Or should the money go to the indigenous peoples so that they can continue to live in harmony with nature and, through their way of living, sustain the forest?