Sustainable Living Can Aid Poverty Reduction

Jun 26, 2014

The Jakarta Globe. With high poverty levels in Indonesia, calls are mounting for sustainable development in order to continue raising living standards in the nation even after the 2015 Millennium Development Goal program.

In 2010, The United Nations announced that it already achieved its first goal, which was to reduce the global poverty rate from 1.91 billion people in 1990, to 1.22 billion, or 21 percent of those living in the developing world, five years ahead of the MDG deadline.

People living on less than $1.25 a day are considered poor.

Data from Indonesia’s Central Statistics Agency (BSP) show that 28.5 million people, or 11.47 percent of the country’s population, were impoverished in 2013.

That figure showed an 8 percent decrease from 2010, which amounted to 13.33 percent of Indonesians in that year.

However, the country’s GINI coefficient — a measure of income inequality — still widened to 0.41 in 2013, from 0.35 in 2005, a year after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono took office, according to the World Bank.

That was above the 0.4 level that the United Nations has set as a predictor of social unrest, and compares with China’s level of 0.47 in the past two years.

The poorest half of Indonesians saw zero or slightly negative growth in consumption expenditure between 2012 and 2013, compared with 4 percent growth across the entire population and an average of 7 percent for the richest 20 percent, the World Bank said in a 2013 report.

Last year, the UN called for all nations to continue narrowing the global poverty rate post-2015 to no more than 3 percent before 2030 and to foster income growth of the bottom 40 percent of the population of every country through environmentally, socially and economically sustainable methods.

“We do believe the lives of billions of people can be improved, in a way that preserves the planet’s natural resource assets for future generations,” stated a 2013 UN report titled “A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies Through Sustainable Development.”

The report was published after a meeting by the High-Level Panel of eminent persons on the post-2015 development agenda, which was established by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in May last year and co-chaired by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

In poverty eradication, the panel pointed out that every nation should also take into account aspects such as basic social justice, investment in sustainable development benefitting people at large, room for innovation, creating job opportunities, adding value and increasing productivity, and also an inclusive global partnership between all nations.

“Sustainable living is based on three pillars, namely socially, economically, and environmentally,” Laura Hukom, advocacy director at World Vision Indonesia, said in an e-mail to the Jakarta Globe on Wednesday.

Laura said people living in poverty, as the most the vulnerable group, could benefit greatly from the correct combination of the three pillars, especially future generations.

David Sumual, chief economist at Bank Central Asia, echoed Laura’s sentiments, adding that he sees the economic potential for those living in poverty narrowing due to the destruction of the environment.

“Sustainable development can help alleviate poverty,” David told the Jakarta Globe on Wednesday.

“With our environment that keeps on getting destroyed, there is a lot less chance for the poor to make use of business opportunities such as ecotourism or [producing] traditional pharmaceuticals using what’s available from the environment.”

He added that the public could also benefit from recycling initiatives, which could present business opportunities.

“There are business opportunities in [sustainable development]. We just need to be creative and innovative,” David said.

“The government should support lower-income groups by providing materials and creating marketing opportunities, especially for micro, small and medium enterprises. And, also remind them to maintain a green and environmentally friendly lifestyle,” he said.

David further pointed out that through sustainable development, which seeks to conserve resources and the environment, people living in poverty can also experience other benefits, such as improved health and food security.

Shifting focus for the new government

For the new government, the decision to shift focus to sustainable development in order to help alleviate poverty, will clearly be of great benefit for Indonesia, the world’s tenth-largest economy based on purchasing power parity.

“Progress on this scale is possible, but only if the government [at all levels], multilateral institutions, businesses and civil society organizations are willing to change course and reject business-as-usual,” the UN-convened panel said in its report.

David, the BCA economist, argues that the Indonesian government should not only focus on increasing the amount of funds that it transfers to regions as the money, more often than not, falls through the cracks due to corruption by local government officials instead of going for the intended purposes.

“As the government transfers the money, it should [also] provide strategic planning and concepts for the development of each region. There’s a need for enhancement of systems in the regions,” David said.

He added that the government should start by doing research on the economic potential of one region, taking into account its existing and renewable natural resources and eventually enable it to produce something from the resources, which could then be distributed to other regions that lack such products or are unable to produce them.

Laura of World Vision Indonesia added that the government could empower the communities living in poverty through equal education and engaging them through meaningful participation, to be independent, resourceful, and self-sufficient to support themselves.

“It is important to build the resilience of [the people living in poverty] to adapt to social and natural changes,” Laura said.

Sustainability left undiscussed

Ironically, neither of the two presidential candidates, Prabowo Subianto and Joko Widodo, has provided any road map for sustainable development in the past three TV debates, even as Indonesia has fallen short on making significant improvement on its level of impoverishment.

Prabowo even ambitiously aims to clear up 2 million hectares of land for his agricultural development program, which means that even if one counts the damaged forest areas that he promises to cultivate, large tracts of existing virgin forest will have to be converted into farmland in order to fulfill this single promise.

Fauna & Flora International, a conservation charity and non-governmental organization, noted that nearly 5.2 million hectares of forest in Indonesia are being cut down per year.

The NGO reported that the country was one of the main contributors to the spike in the world’s rate of deforestation.

Still, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said in early May that the deforestation rate had fallen to between 450,000 hectares and 600,000 hectares annually between 2011 and 2013, down from 1.2 million hectares per year during the 2003 to 2006 period.

Experts agree that poverty reduction should also involve green justice.

Micro-credit programs, properly designed, can have environmental as well as social advantages.

Balancing economic growth and equality with environmental sustainability is not just possible, but also essential.

It is also crucial to remember that development comes to a stop if natural resources are exhausted, water is polluted and soil becomes degraded in the process.

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