Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Vulnerable -- A woman walks across a railway track in a slum area in Jakarta. The World Health Organization says stigma facilitates leprosy transmission among vulnerable groups, including migrant populations, displaced communities, the ultra-poor and hard-to-reach population. (Tempo/-)

Against the backdrop of rising concern for the fate of our cities, urbanization has become one of today’s most talked about and politicized issues in government cabinets and boardrooms across the world. The future of our planet is debated as if it is centered exclusively on the issue of a rapidly urbanizing world, the primacies of great metropolitans and conurbations, and the race to create more livable spaces.

The UN has clearly stated that urbanization has significantly contributed to economic growth, while fostering development and improving welfare in many locations.

But urbanization also has contributed to challenges that include multi-dimensional poverty, environmental degradation and low disaster preparedness.

The new Urban Agenda, a 20-year program to define the narratives and future of sustainable urban development, planning and human settlements, will be decided at the Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador, in October. The preparatory committee meeting hosted by Indonesia in Surabaya on July 24 to 27, will discuss suitable strategies prior to convening in Quito.

Indonesia is one of the UN bureau members for Habitat III together with Chile, Ecuador, France, Germany, Senegal, Slovakia and the United Arab Emirates.

Potentially the world’s fifth-largest economy in the next two decades, Indonesia’s role in the agenda will reflect its own preparation in embracing urbanization and sustainability issues within its own domestic context.

Sadly, it is not clear how Indonesia is going to seize this opportunity to make a valuable contribution to the agenda. The introduction of what may only be described as a rather rudimentary National Report issued by Indonesia earlier this year was a disappointment.

It is barely an elaboration of significant principle differences faced by bureaucrats, contrasted against an ideal development planning practice in Indonesia.

In reality Indonesia’s relatively stable macroeconomic fundamentals are still heavily overshadowed by disparities between its regions. Its vast area impedes uniform growth and distribution of resulting prosperity.

At the same time, the government has set a utopian target of “100-0-100”, or 100 percent access to sanitation, zero slums and a 100 percent potable water network by 2019! This target was launched at the eleventh hour of the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono administration and has since been adopted by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s Cabinet in its development plans.

Setting such an ambitious target is not helpful to finding suitable policies to address these gaps. The government claims its water network stands at 67 percent coverage, with 60 percent accessibility to sanitation and slum areas at 12 percent.

This sounds like great progress, but the real problem is how those outcomes are distributed across cities and regions.

Many cities and towns are still struggling, where water is in crisis, open latrines a common view and slum areas are still dominating the landscape to varying degrees.

It is consistent the world across, with the World Health Organization reporting that in 2015 only 68 percent of the world’s population had access to satisfactory sanitation facilities, and 2.4 billion people still did not have basic sanitation facilities such as toilets or latrines.

Access to drinking water is defined as a water source that is less than 1 kilometer away from its place of use and where at least 20 liters can be obtained per member of a household per day.

Water needs to be safe, with microbial, chemical and physical characteristics that meet WHO guidelines or national standards on drinking water quality.

The Indonesian National Report fails to reflect the necessary focus on the overwhelming disparities between regions, nor does it give fair consideration to the fact that strategic and supposedly fast-growth areas are not developing rapidly enough. Vision is clearly absent in our urban development

Development is dictated for the most part and indeed often measured by the sprawl of cities creating conurbations and interconnections — thus producing a mega-urban system.

Examples include the Greater Jakarta megapolitan with a population of 28 million, the Mebidangro system (Medan-Binjai-Deli Serdang) with 5 million in North Sumatera, metropolitan Bandung with 7.7 million, Surabaya Gerbang Kertasusila with almost 10 million, and the Maminasata area in Makassar of almost 4.5 million.

There is an absence of a strong national system-of-cities plan, leading to lack of coordination and imbalanced growth of metropolitans, big, medium and small cities.

A sharp decline in quality of life in urban areas due to “unproductive” urbanization will become more dominant if local governments are lacking the political will to ensure consistency in the implementation of master plans.

One of the most immediate concerns is the ongoing massive land conversion from productive agricultural land to non-agriculture, and from productive land to residential areas.

There are disparities between areas within small regions and intra-island locations, such as between the east and west coastal areas of Sumatra, the north and southern coastal areas of Java, and the remote border areas with neighboring countries.

Central and local governments need to implement a “business-not-as-usual” approach, including a focus on overwhelming common inter-region issues such as water resources, regional waste management, flood control and disaster management.

And bureaucrats must stop engaging in counterproductive activities that contribute toward a high cost economy, and rather concentrate on delivering much needed regulatory reforms to accelerate infrastructure development.

Indonesian cities need to identify innovative strategies to increase stakeholder engagement and boost investment. Several cities and regions have started to do so — witness initiatives championed by Makassar in South Sulawesi, Bandung in West Java and governments of South Sumatra to speed up private participation in roads, public utilities and mass transportation, transit-oriented development and water supply systems.

Habitat III is crucial to Indonesia and to President Jokowi if there is a desire to influence strategic direction and the global agenda. As a former mayor himself, President Jokowi is an asset, with the task of governing a strategic region of 17,000 islands with over 250 million people along the equator, addressing major disparities and creating more livable cities.

The Surabaya meeting provides a platform for Indonesia to redefine its agenda. It is an opportunity for the government to renew its political engagement in the urban agenda, embracing the voices of the young through applied technologies and connecting rural communities to growth centers.

Urban development needs to be measured against the need to protect and develop borders, infrastructure, productivity, environmental considerations, social inclusion, quality of life and good urban governance.

It is time for President Jokowi to promote his vision to develop inclusive, livable and sustainable Indonesian cities — cities for the people.

The writer Bernardus Djonoputro is president of the Indonesian Association of Urban and Regional Planners, and an advisory council member of the APEC Center for Urban Infrastructure Network headquartered at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.

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