|© UNICEF Indonesia/2009/Wida|
|A baby carried in a traditional cloth sling is fed by his mother in Central Java. The current economic crisis is forcing some Indonesian parents to seek cheaper and lower-quality food.|
By Lely Djuhari
JAKARTA, Indonesia, 7 April 2009 – Indonesia, the largest economy in Southeast Asia, is showing signs of further economic decline this year, and the government wants to quickly detect how badly children and poor families are affected.
A workshop on monitoring the impact of the global economic crisis on poor and vulnerable families in Indonesia – organized by Bappenas, the national planning board, and supported by the United Nations Development Programme, UNICEF and other UN agencies – was held last week in Jakarta.
The event followed an earlier UNICEF-sponsored conference in Singapore, where Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati’s keynote speech underlined the country’s commitment to ensure that children get first call for resources, especially in times of economic challenge.
Getting data in real time
Measuring the impact of the crisis on food security, jobs, poverty, children’s education and health will be crucial in order to respond effectively, said Bappenas Deputy Minister Dr. Bambang Widianto.
Last week’s workshop aimed to strengthen the government’s crisis-monitoring system, particularly by “developing and testing means of getting the data as soon as possible, or even in real time,” said UNICEF Regional Adviser for Social Policy Dr. Mahesh Patel.
This effort includes modifying the 100-village survey model used in the 1997-98 financial crisis here; extracting routine health and disease surveillance data from health centres, voluntary counselling and testing centres, and schools; and checking market prices.
UNICEF and the International Labour Organization also continue to advocate for collecting data on child labour.
Development and social safety nets
In 2008, a joint World Food Programme-UNICEF research project on food security found that the rural poor suffered more than the urban poor in Indonesia. Some 41 per cent of households surveyed no longer worked on their own farms but instead toiled as wage labourers and were dependent on food purchases from local markets.
In 2009, more research is being done to measure how these rural households cope. Early findings show they are eating cheaper, lower-quality food, relying on relatives and friends for additional money to buy food, buying non-food items on credit or reducing health expenses. School absenteeism is also being monitored.
In addition, UNICEF will add technical expertise and continue evidence-based advocacy for child health and nutrition, education and protection, according to UNICEF Indonesia Chief of Social Policy Niloufar Pourzand.
“Indonesia’s ability to stop preventable deaths, reduce malnutrition and protect children from dropping out of school and becoming child labourers during this crisis depends on their continuing development programmes and expanding social safety nets,” she said.
Effects on health and education
Indonesia, like other Asian countries, has lower state expenditures on health than other regions. Making families pay for social services means that when crises strike and family incomes dries up, child health is more likely to suffer.
The government’s initiatives so far are notable and innovative. Block grants to communities have been disbursed, for example. Additional funds are tied to improvements in the rates of prenatal check-ups and childhood immunization. And village heads can use these conditional cash transfers to give pregnant women free medical assistance and pay for their transportation costs to health centres.
Despite a surge in the state budget allocation from 2009 onwards to 20 percent for education – making education free for primary and junior high school students – there are still fears of school attendance dropping.
Using the block grants, however, schools can give incentives to part-time teachers, and students can buy books, uniforms and other materials. In return, communities are asked to help ensure that enrollment and attendance rates remain regular.
These social safety nets must be further strengthened and have to cover wider geographical areas, as plunging export demand and falling commodity prices push the economy into its slowest year of growth in a decade, government officials said.