American ExportsThroughout the past several decades, nations in Southeast Asia have seen significant declines in extreme poverty rates. As poverty has fallen and these nations have developed economically, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has become the United States’ fourth-largest trading partner. While the United States does rely heavily on this region for imports, trade with ASEAN also supports American exports and bolsters nearly 346,000 American jobs. The following five countries in Southeast Asia are critical trading partners and demonstrate the economic benefits that can coincide with a decrease in extreme poverty:

1. Malaysia

Malaysia has been extremely successful in reducing poverty throughout the past several decades. According to the United Nations, “… in 1970, 49.3% of Malaysian households were below the poverty line.” As of 2015, the figure had fallen to 0.4%. As poverty has fallen, Malaysia has also grown economically, developing profitable manufacturing, petroleum and natural gas industries.

As the country has reduced poverty and developed economically, it has become an important trading partner to the United States. The United States imports electrical machinery, tropical oils and rubber from Malaysia. It also exports soybeans, cotton and aircraft to the nation. In total, the trade between the two nations totals around $57.8 billion each year and supports nearly 73,000 American jobs.

2. Thailand

Thailand is another country that has seen impressive levels of poverty reduction in recent decades. According to The World Bank, poverty rates fell from around 65% in 1988 to under 10% in 2018. The nation has also evolved economically, developing large automotive and tourism industries as poverty rates have fallen.

Trade between the United States and Thailand has steadily grown, totaling $48.9 billion in 2018. When analyzing imports, the United States relied on Thailand for machinery, rice and precious metals. In terms of exports, the United States provided the nation with electrical machinery, mineral fuels and soybeans. In total, the exports to the nation supported nearly 72,000 American jobs. Additionally, exports to Thailand have been increasing in recent years, growing nearly 14.5% from 2017 to 2018.

3. Vietnam

Vietnam is perhaps one of the most astounding examples of poverty reduction and economic development. The World Bank reports that “the poverty headcount in Vietnam fell from nearly 60% to 20.7% in the past 20 years.” As it has done so, the nation developed one of the most rapidly growing middle classes in Southeast Asia, became a center for foreign investment and developed key industries in electronics, footwear and textiles.

While the United States has come to heavily rely on Vietnamese imports, Vietnam is also a rapidly growing market for American exports. In fact, American exports of goods to Vietnam increased by 246.9%, and American exports of services to the nation increased 110% since 2008. According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, “U.S. exports of Goods and Services to Vietnam supported an estimated 54,000 American jobs in 2015.”

4. Indonesia

Though the nation still has significant progress to make, Indonesia is another nation that has seen a reduction in extreme poverty rates. Since 1990, the nation has managed to half its poverty rate and make significant economic advancements. Currently the largest economy in Southeast Asia, the nation has developed notable industries in petroleum, natural gas, textiles and mining.

Trade with the nation totaled around $32.9 billion in 2019. While the United States imported apparel and footwear from the nation, it also exported soybeans, aircraft and fuels to Indonesia. In total, American exports to Indonesia are growing, increasing 19.1% from 2017 to 2018 and supporting nearly 56,000 American jobs.

5. Philippines

While poverty is still an issue in the Philippines, it has seen significant declines in recent years. According to the World Bank, poverty fell from 26.6% to 21.6% from 2006 to 2015. The nation has also made significant improvements in developing industries outside of agriculture. While agriculture composed nearly one-third of the nation’s GDP in the 1970s, it currently represents 9.3%, split between an emerging industrial and service sector.

Trade with the nation currently provides $29.6 billion each year, and exports to the Philippines grew 3% from 2017 to 2018. Mainly, the Philippines relies on American exports for electrical machinery, soybean meal, and wheat. Overall, exports to the Philippines support an estimated 58,000 American jobs.

Affecting nearly one in five American jobs, international trade is a critical part of the American economy. As demonstrated by Southeast Asia, a reduction in global poverty rates not only contributes to global economic development but also supports the export industry and American jobs.

– Michael Messina
Photo: Pexels

Tourists at Kawah Ijen
In Indonesia, 9,000 feet above sea level, on the Kawah Ijen volcano crater, one can see two kinds of people: sulfur miners suffering backbreaking labor in toxic conditions, and tourists wealthy enough to afford gas masks and enjoy the rugged beauty of the landscape.

Background

The miners are locals of the region. They trek up the steep cliffs, carrying 80 kilograms of sulfur per trip for compensation of about 7 cents per kilogram. PT Candi Ngrimi employs them and processes the sulfur into powder, slabs and granules for sale to manufacturing companies. In particular, sugar processing companies use sulfur to refine and whiten sugar crystals.

Despite working next to the most acidic lake in the world and within the toxic fumes of the volcano, the workers have virtually no equipment to protect themselves from hazards. Most wear only a thin piece of cloth over their nose and mouth.

Unlike the miners, who have been active since 1954, the tourists at Kawah Ijen are a new addition to the volcano. East Java was rather obscure until 2010. Then, Abdullah Azwar Anas became regent of the Banyuwangi Regency (the city in which the volcano is located). Upon his election, Azwar developed fervent promotions for tourism, and now millions of people visit Banyuwangi yearly.

Benefits of Tourism

The economic impact of tourism is immense for many countries around the world. For instance, Maldives has shifted from a least developed to a developing country largely because of tourism, which is the dominant economic sector for that country.

Tourism is a growing economic force for Indonesia, too, as it accounts for 5.2% of GDP and 3.7% of total employment. Tourists at Kawah Ijen create the potential for public and private sector cooperation. This relationship could build infrastructure to support tourism, ultimately increasing employment and income.

Tourist attractions like the Kawah Ijen crater rely on the environmental and cultural health of the area. Thus, the governments and corporations in Banyuwangi have the motivation to preserve these aspects. Although there may be increased infrastructure development in the area, it is unlikely that there will be large-scale changes that would alter the natural and cultural beauty of Banyuwangi.

Consequences of Tourism

The primary concern of tourism at Kawah Ijen is that the sulfur miners become an attraction, much like the alluring blue fire, yellow sulfur and acidic lake of the volcano’s crater. Tourists reflect this concern by taking selfies with miners who are about to begin their trek back to base for their daily $5. Despite their popularity, the miners have not seen any monetary rewards during Banyuwangi’s tourism boom, barring small fees for photographs. Their wages remain as they have for decades.

Tourists at Kawah Ijen are not an inherently bad thing, of course. However, the sulfur miners are a big reason that the volcano is a tourist attraction at all, yet they continue to live in poverty. It is an extreme example of exploitation without compensation.

So popular is the hardship of the sulfur miners’ lives that they are documented on a database of “dark tourism.” Dark tourism, according to the website, is “travel to sites that are in some way connected to death or disaster.” Kawah Ijen received a 10/10 on its “dark-o-meter” rating, alongside memorials to the Hiroshima bombing and the Rwandan genocide.

How to Ensure Positive Development

There are ways that tourism can theoretically provide a positive experience for host communities. These ways not only avoid voyeurism but seek to alleviate some of the challenges host communities experience.

One example of this is voluntourism, which melds volunteer service work with tourism. Tourists could plant trees resistant to sea-level rise on the coast of East Java. They could help build a road to make the miners’ travels easier. Voluntourism, however, is a potentially deleterious activity that can strip local communities of their agency. If implemented at Kawah Ijen, officials would have to monitor voluntourism with extreme caution and attention to detail.

Another example is pro-poor tourism, which aims to create a net benefit for impoverished communities in host countries. This often takes the form of governments or private companies training impoverished populations to take part in the tourist industry, perhaps as a travel guide or an education specialist.

Because of tourism’s growing economic importance in Banyuwangi, tourists themselves have indirect political power in the region. Considering this, tourists at Kawah Ijen have an opportunity to become activists. If they demanded that miners received just compensation for their work, the regency or PT Cambri Ngimri may oblige. This is called justice tourism, and although it may seem idealistic, it could produce a serious change in places like Kawah Ijen, if it were done correctly.

Sublime photos of Kawah Ijen’s sulfur mines and blue fire continue to circulate on the internet. It is clear that the volcano’s popularity is not dwindling. Governments and companies, then, should try and discover ways to make tourism socially sustainable. This practice is necessary not just in Indonesia, but in any place that is worth visiting and celebrating.

Christopher Orion Bresnahan
Photo: Flickr

Palm Oil in Indonesia
One can find palm oil in most U.S. packaged products. Indonesia was the top palm oil exporter in 2019 with a record output of 36.18 million tons, making this resource a significant contributor to economic prosperity. However, meeting the high demand for palm oil has taken a toll on the country’s social and natural environment. Here is some information about palm oil production in Indonesia.

The Need for Palm Oil

The market for palm oil quickly became robust following a rise in boycotts of trans fats in packaged food items. Many companies previously utilized trans fats to extend products’ shelf lives, but discoveries of their associated health risks in comparison to other vegetable oils led to a worldwide shift toward safer alternatives like palm oil. Palm oil is cheaper to produce and buy than other oils, costing roughly $2 per 2.2 pounds. Although its low price is certainly beneficial, the heavy demand for palm oil has harmed plantations workers and forest regions.

Deforestation and Reduction of Biodiversity

Indonesia is the largest exporter of palm oil, producing approximately half of the global product. Palm trees are highly efficient, so growers can produce palm oil quickly and in large volumes. Still, the deforestation that is necessary to expanding palm oil plantations is devastating to forest areas and wildlife. Global Forest Watch stated that between 2001 and 2018, Indonesia lost “26 million hectares (Mha) of the forest,” leading to a 25% deforestation rate — the highest in the world. This land clearing releases carbon into the atmosphere, causing wildfires that reduce biodiversity to a mere 15%.

Societal Impacts

To accommodate the growing palm oil industry, many indigenous people had to leave their homes. In addition to losing their shelters, these individuals have lost rights to their land, culture and resources. The Human Rights Watch carefully inspects the devastation that many native families experience.

Local workers within the palm oil industry have experienced a burden from long hours and little pay, sometimes working overtime without proper compensation. For females, the gender divide makes conditions even worse: these workers usually do not receive paid contracts, meaning their labor is abused. Despite a minimum wage requirement set in 2017, women receive 66,000 rupees ($5) a day. Their male counterparts obtain nearly 100,000 rupees ($7.50) a day. Additionally, women often work in maintenance management where they work with harmful pesticides and chemicals, predisposing them to more health problems than men. The accumulation of these negative conditions perpetuates the cycle of poverty for many Indonesian palm oil workers.

Economic Impacts

Palm oil production in Indonesia generates nearly $18 billion annually in foreign exchange, a significant benefit to the country’s economy. In comparison to other vegetable oils, palm oil is the most sustainable, efficient and versatile option. Despite the deforestation that has destroyed much of Indonesia’s forest area, palm oil production remains more environmentally friendly than any of its alternatives. Even with a substantial gender pay divide, the industry lifts locals out of poverty by providing over 4.5 million jobs.

Here to Help

The Asian Agri’s One to One Commitment has helped local palm oil farmers develop smallholder partnerships since 1987, with the ultimate goal of improving land productivity. Independent smallholders often lack access to the newest technology or industry standards. Asian Agri creates partnership opportunities to assist these local farmers keeping their protocols as effective as possible. The One to One Commitment has boosted the efficiency of palm oil farms, improving incomes and living standards for thousands. Given the palm oil industry’s overwhelming success, Asian Agri’s investment in local stakeholders provides hope for the future of palm oil production in Indonesia.

Allison Lloyd
Photo: Flickr

PFAS Contamination
Per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS) are a class of human-made chemicals that manufacturers have used in consumer products since 1950. There are more than 4,500 PFAS, which go into making fluoropolymer coatings and other heat-resistant products. PFAS can be in products such as clothing, furniture, food packaging, cooking materials, electrical insulation and firefighting foam. PFAS contamination has become a significant concern for environmentalists around the world, as many of these chemicals are not biodegradable. As a result, PFAS has contaminated soils and water sources across the globe.

How Do PFAS Impact Health?

The effect of PFAS on humans is uncertain; however, studies on animals indicate that PFAS can have serious health effects. Studies have repeatedly shown that exposure to PFAS can stunt growth and development, alter reproductive and thyroid function and damage the immune system and the liver. PFAS can also reduce vaccine effectiveness and increase the risk of kidney and testicular cancer.

Exposure to this potentially dangerous group of chemicals is widespread. People are most likely exposed to PFAS by consuming contaminated water or food or by breathing in PFAS-contaminated air particles. Those who work in the production of PFAS or PFAS-containing products are most at risk of PFAS exposure. In these jobs, workers can inhale PFAS or absorb the chemicals through their skin.

How Do PFAS Harm Developing Countries?

In the developed world, PFAS contamination has received significant scientific and political attention. However, in less wealthy countries, people have done very little to address the issue or even gather data on PFAS. In 2019, a study occurred in 12 Middle Eastern and Asian countries to understand better how PFAS impact the developing world. Unsurprisingly, the study found that PFAS water pollution in these countries is abundant. In Malaysia, for example, the greatest source of drinking water, which supplies water to 6 million people, tested significantly over the PFAS regulatory limits in the United States. Moreover, in Indonesia, PFAS levels in the Jakarta Bay were 10 times as high as the highest-level record in San Francisco Bay.

Widespread PFAS water contamination has led to the contamination of food products in these countries. Studies have shown that PFAS has contaminated seafood and some terrestrial animals in Bangladesh, India, Japan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Other consumer products, such as textiles, also contain alarming amounts of PFAS. For example, a Greenpeace investigation found that waterproof coats made in Bangladesh contain 557 µg/m² ionic PFAS. The E.U. limits PFAS to 1 µg/m² in textiles.

In developing countries, the abundance of PFAS has resulted in high PFAS levels in both children and adults. In Jordan, the average level of PFAS in breastmilk is seven times higher than standard drinking water advisory levels in the United States. Similar levels exist in India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam. Experiencing exposure to high levels of PFAS from birth, it is no surprise that people in these countries also experience high levels of PFAS in their blood.

Solutions for PFAS Contamination

While the impacts of PFAS on human health are not certain, studies on animals suggest that people should implement measures to reduce PFAS contamination on a global level. To protect people in developing countries, PFAS must receive more scientific and political attention in these regions. Members of the international community, such as the United States and E.U. countries, should assist developing nations to gather data on PFAS in their countries. The data could help developing regions implement regulations regarding PFAS production and use. With cooperation from the international community, it is possible that global PFAS contamination could experience better management in the future.

– Mary Kate Langan
Photo: Flickr


Groundswell Aid is mobilizing surfers in the world’s most renowned surfing locations to help address the burden of poverty. It was born from passionate surfers scouring the earth for a perfect wave. Founders Roy Harley and Jeff Ryan created Groundswell Aid as a way to connect the surfing community to disadvantaged people that live only minutes away from the most impressive surf breaks around the world. The organization partners with local leaders’ in locations such as Mauritius, El Salvador, Chile and South Africa, and uses surfing as a way to inspire and mobilize these impoverished communities.

Groundswell Gardens

Jeffreys Bay is the new home to Groundswell Gardens, a homegrown project that provides sustainable ways to address food insecurity in surfing communities in South Africa. In 2017, 20% of South Africans struggled to access food. The Republic of South Africa reported that agricultural development and subsistence farming is an effective way to address the issue.

As a result, Groundswell Aid is taking unused land and transforming it into a community garden filled with fruit, and leafy and root crops. The project has built 36 garden planters so far and hopes to create 270 for the community. After the crops are ready for harvest, the food will be given to the locals and the gardens will be reused for a sustainable farming process.

Indonesian Mercy Huts

The Mentawai Islands Regency, Uluwatu of Bali and the T-Land of Rote Island are world-class surfing locations in Indonesia. However, the side of Indonesia that many surfers do not see is the 80% of people in Mentawai living in poverty in 2017. However, Groundswell Aid partnered with a grassroots project called Mercy Huts to address and provide resources to those suffering from poverty in rural Indonesia.

Mercy Huts creates beachfront surf retreats for tourists that then give back to the islands of Indonesia. The profits of Mercy Huts are invested in community resources that promote education for youth, community development training and creating a stronger tourism industry. The tourism industry, which includes surfing tourism, is vital to the Indonesian economy because it is predicted that tourism will account for $141.3 billion annually for the country by 2027.

COVID-19 Campaign

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, impoverished communities are more susceptible to high mortality rates. It is also predicted that 49 million people in the world will sink into poverty by the end of 2020. Groundswell Aid is mobilizing surfers to help address the impacts of COVID-19 on poor surfing communities through the organization’s Groundswell Aid COVID-19 relief campaign. The campaign has raised more than $10,000, which has been donated to surfing communities in Indonesia, South Africa and El Salvador.

Groundswell Aid has created an impact as strong as a wave crashing against the sand. The organization is mobilizing surfers through a variety of projects that address poverty and the issues that come along with it. The humanitarian work that the organization has completed is helping relieve many people from the burden of poverty, while also providing opportunities for local leaders to become involved with their communities and move one step closer to ending poverty for all.

Josie Collier
Photo: Pixabay

Women Leaders in IndonesiaThis summer, the Women’s Earth Alliance (WEA) began its second annual Indonesia Accelerator for Grassroots Women Environmental Leaders. The Accelerator program supports 60 initiatives across 28 regions of Indonesia. It provides resources and training for women leaders in Indonesia to support the environment and their communities through grassroots programs.

Why Focus on Indonesia?

Indonesia is currently the fifth largest producer of greenhouse gases. The country’s emissions rose 3% just last year. WEA finds that “in this moment of environmental crisis, Indonesia is ground zero.” The large and rising greenhouse gas emissions in the country counters progress that other countries are making to limit emissions and prevent global warming.

Global warming has effects on all sectors of society, including agriculture and the economy. This issue especially impacts women, so WEA plans to lift up women leaders in Indonesia who are both the most affected by and the most determined to fix these environmental and societal issues.

What the Accelerator Program Does

The program focuses on the pillars of impact, awareness, and access. Women leaders in Indonesia apply to the program with a project plan to fix a certain issue in their community. Those who are accepted go through a comprehensive training program. This program teaches them to maximize the impact of their efforts, gain awareness and support from the public and strengthen community networks. This knowledge will allow these women to influence others to rise up and implement social projects of their own.

Program participants go through a four-month curriculum that is hands-on, teamwork-oriented and doesn’t interfere with daily life or jobs. They come together over group video calls for webinars or small group discussions and receive mentors, as well as tools and other resources for learning or extending their impact.

The curriculum includes movement-building skills such as networking and campaigning. It also includes economic skills like building a revenue stream, environmental skills and social skills like how to best care for their communities. The program assists them in building a comprehensive Action Plan to grow their proposed initiatives into professional movements. Additionally, they receive guidance through a global network of WEA alumni, mentors, and supporters. The women leaders in Indonesia also receive some funds to implement their initiatives.

Initiatives in Action

This year, Winda Arianti of West Sumater is participating in the Accelerator program in the hopes of using alternative economic development strategies, such as encouraging ecotourism, to support women in Indonesia. She is currently a leader at Wahli Sumbar, an NGO in Padang, Indonesia. Arianti oversees about 500 people who support these economic development projects.

Arianti’s project aims to stimulate her local economy using environmentally-friendly strategies while employing underprivileged women along the way. WEA’s program will help her grow her impact, help more women and move the economy towards sustainability.

Maria Patricia Wata Beribe, a facilitator at Campus Without Walls, hopes to use this opportunity to encourage local youth to be activists and stewards in their own communities. Her experiences as a field officer for the Tananua Flores Foundation and VECO Rikolto Indonesia exposed her to women’s lack of access to education, skill-building and healthcare in agricultural communities. She also gained experience in sustainable development and local government issues.

Beribe currently works to bring college students and village youth together in order to reconnect with their culture and homes. Her initiative aims to assist Indonesian youth in becoming activists who love their communities and work hard to support them using business ventures, sustainable practices and more.

WEA’s Indonesia Accelerator for Grassroots Women Environmental Leaders program amplifies the voices of women leaders in Indonesia.  The initiative provides Indonesian women with the support they need to make large scale positive changes in their communities.

– Kathy Wei
Photo: Wikimedia


Technology has the ability to empower those in a community to achieve better, faster, and more efficient results. Gojek is an Indonesian start-up that began with a vision to use technology to improve the lives of motorcycle taxi drivers. The company has now flourished into an online ecosystem that connects Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Indonesia to millions of customers and Big Tech clients. This effort is further improving the lives of millions in the region.

Who is Gojek?

Gojek is Indonesia’s first unicorn company and Super App that provides a multitude of services to thousands of users across Southeast Asia, such as ride-hailing, food delivery, beauty services, entertainment booking and online payments. The company believes there is always a way to solve everyday problems and create a positive social impact using advancements in technology. As SMEs make up most of the businesses in Indonesia, Gojek helps SMEs in Indonesia by creating a digital platform that connects consumers and businessmen efficiently and seamlessly. Overall, the company managed to raise billions of dollars in financing from Google, Tencent, JD.com, Mitsubishi and VISA. More recently, Facebook and Paypal also invested in Gojek’s financial technology division, thereby officially joining Gojek’s list of high profile investors that share the mission of increasing digital economic growth in Southeast Asia.

Connecting SMEs with Big Tech in Indonesia

Indonesia is Southeast Asia’s largest and fastest-growing digital economy. Therefore, Gojek plays an important role in facilitating the growth of the digital economy by acting as a medium of communication between Big Tech companies who want to invest in the region and Indonesia’s SMEs. This results in more sustainable business opportunities.

Gojek helps SMEs in Indonesia by increasing financial inclusion through the digital payments platform on GoPay that is supported by Whatsapp. Digital payments are safer and more reliable for both customers and businesses, yet the majority of SMEs in Indonesia still operate on a cash-basis. SMEs operate this way because they lack access to financial services such as setting up a bank account. This reliance on cash payments only has limited the financial ability and customer reach of SMEs in Indonesia.

However, since its launch in 2015, through its app, Gojek has helped more than a hundred thousands of Indonesian merchants tap into an international market of more than 170 million people across Southeast Asia. In particular, Gojek’s GoPay functionality allows Indonesians who do not have bank accounts to participate in the digital economy by transferring money through Whatsapp, a social media app owned by Facebook that is used by a majority of the Indonesian population.

Gojek’s role during COVID-19

In light of the impact of COVID-19, which rendered consumers unable to physically visit stores, Gojek successfully converted 100,000 traditional businesses onto Gojek’s online platform, saving them from going out of business. By providing SMEs with complete digital solutions and tools, business owners no longer solely rely on in-store sales. Now, they are able to migrate their business online and take advantage of Gojek’s established online platform in light of the pandemic.

In other words, Gojek helps SMEs in Indonesia by promoting digital literacy and skills that will allow them to adapt their business model and increase their chances of reaching more customers, thereby building the long term resiliency of SMEs. Not only does the company play a crucial role in ensuring the delivery of essential food and goods are carried out, but Gojek has also played an active role in helping the Indonesian society by providing relief programs and soft loans for its drivers. For instance, Gojek’s senior management initiated a pay cut to allocate more than $7 million for its drivers and employees that are struggling due to the decrease in demand for Gojek’s services. As a whole, Gojek has helped the Indonesian government manage the COVID-19 pandemic by contributing to the backbone of the Indonesian economy.

It is clear that Gojek’s mission to solve the friction in everyday life is beginning to have a positive impact. It can be seen through the financial aid and support that the organization provides to the SMEs in Indonesia. By connecting Big Tech companies and SMEs, Gojek helps SMEs in Indonesia by giving them a louder voice and increased competitiveness in the regional and international marketplace of the digital economy.

– Mariyah Lia
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Indonesia
With the population estimated at over 250 million people, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world. It has been enjoying strong economic growth in the past decades and it is the largest economy in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Despite the impressive economic growth, however, it is still a lower middle-income country. Hunger in Indonesia continues to be a significant issue.

Poverty and Hunger in Indonesia

Poverty is still concentrated in rural areas, with 14.3% of the rural population living in poverty in 2014, accounting for more than 60% of the total poor. Additionally, challenges of high food prices and unequal access to food remain unresolved, despite increasing trends in food production and availability. As a consequence of poverty and food scarcity, 19.4 million Indonesians are unable to meet their dietary needs.

A 2019 report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the International Food Research Institute (IFPRI) found that about 22 million people suffered from chronic hunger in Indonesia between 2016 and 2018. Despite the strong growth that Indonesia has made in the agricultural sector, many families across the country still engage in traditional agricultural activities that are low-paid. This leads to hunger and stunting in children.

The Double Burden of Malnutrition

The impressive economic growth has brought about substantial improvements in many aspects of human development in Indonesia. The mortality rate of children under five has dropped from 85 out of 1000 births in 1990 to 31 in 2012. The prevalence of underweight children is also low at 5.4%.

However, the stunting rate in Indonesian children remains widespread. Approximately 37.4% of children under five in 2013 suffered from stunted growth. Stunting in children, a sign of chronic malnutrition, comes with lifelong consequences. It interferes with other development processes of the body, including brain development, which has damaging effects on intelligence, performance in school and productivity at work later in life.

Malnutrition can have detrimental effects very early on in life. When children receive inadequate nutrition in the womb, they become more prone to obesity when their body consumes more food. This in turn leaves them vulnerable to other non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. This is the double burden of malnutrition that Indonesia faces. It is estimated that 8.9% of adult women and 4.8% of men are obese, while 8% of the women and 7.4% of men in Indonesia have diabetes. Additionally, more than 1 in 4 women of reproductive age suffer from anemia.

The negative effects of malnutrition are not only felt by the individuals suffering from them but also by society as a whole. It is estimated that losses due to stunting and malnutrition account for 2-3% of Indonesia’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Efforts to Decrease Hunger

In an effort to secure food for low-income households, the government of Indonesia set up a program called Raskin to deliver subsidized rice monthly to the most vulnerable households. Under this program, the eligible households could purchase 15kg of rice each month for a fifth of the market price. Each year, the government distributes 3.4 million tons of rice to a target population of 17.5 million people. With the annual budget of $1.5 billion, Raskin is Indonesia’s largest social support program.

The government also coordinates with nonprofit organizations globally to help combat hunger in Indonesia. Due to its size and geography, Indonesia is particularly vulnerable to natural disasters, which cause food security in many communities. The World Food Program (WFP) is working closely with the Indonesian government to improve nutrition and the quality of food. It also helps mitigate the effects of natural disasters on food security by providing policy advice and technical assistance.

Moving forward, it is essential that the government and other humanitarian organizations continue to make hunger in Indonesia a priority. With continued efforts, hopefully the nation will be successful in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2: zero hunger in Indonesia.

– Minh-Ha La
Photo: Flickr

gender inequality in IndonesiaAs the fourth most populous country in the world, Indonesia continues to battle poverty and conditions of inequality for women. However, Indonesia has made strides in improving access to education for girls. The nation also has one of the highest literacy rates in Asia. Various U.N. programs are promoting women’s access to learning while advancing the benefits of women in Indonesia’s marketplace. Here are many ways in which gender equality in Indonesia is improving.

Women in Politics

Indonesia implemented a democratic system in 1998. Since then they have implemented laws that decrease the inequality gap between men and women. For example, one law requires that political parties be composed of at least 30% of women. 2018 even saw Indonesia’s female finance minister voted Best Minister in the World by the World Government Summit. Women in Indonesia have also been influential in promoting certain bills that grant women more rights. The 2019 sexual violence bill, for example, identifies nine different forms of sexual harassment all of which would be made illegal. Discussion of this topic is taboo in some social settings in Indonesia, which makes support for this bill by women crucial.

Grassroots Movements

Women activists and Indonesian civil society organizations (CSOs) have played a role in breaking away social norms regarding inequality. With international support, these CSOs have impacted 900 villages over 27 provinces. This has positively affected more than 32,000 women from more than 1,000 groups in 2018. At the village level, these organizations promote women’s involvement in decision-making and focus on reducing violence against women.

Economic Empowerment

In 2019, U.N. Women launched an online learning platform that aims to empower women business owners called WeLearn. The platform offers free curricula to women entrepreneurs. WeLearn also provides access to lessons from industry experts and fellow women entrepreneurs.

A 2018 study of Women Empowerment Principles in the top 50 companies in Indonesia found that there was a minimum of one woman on every board of at least 84% of the companies that participated in the survey. These companies have also implemented initiatives to empower women in the workplace.

Access to Education

Access to education in Indonesia is also improving for girls. Indonesia has one of the highest literacy rates for women among Asian countries, with 99.7% of women ages 15–24 literate in 2018. By 2019, almost every child in Indonesia attended school at the elementary level. In fact, there were slightly more female students enrolled than male students. Furthermore, females were shown to do better than males.

Looking Forward

Intergovernmental organizations are also promoting gender equality in Indonesia. For example, the UNDP Indonesia Gender Equality Strategy and Action Plan 2017-2020 is committed to addressing four aspects of gender equality in Indonesia:

  • Empower women to achieve a better standard of living and sustainable employment
  • Work with local groups to grant women better healthcare access
  • Support the involvement of women in the sustainable use of natural resources
  • Improve access to responsible and fair public institutions, especially for women who are in more vulnerable situations

Overall, conditions of gender equality in Indonesia are improving through the involvement of women in politics and grassroots organizations. This is especially possible with the support of international organizations like the United Nations. Continued efforts to empower women entrepreneurs and communicate the benefits of women in the marketplace are essential to realizing greater economic benefits and achieving greater gender equality in Indonesia.

– Anita Durairaj

Photo: Wikimedia

surfing helps relieve global poverty Surfing is one of the oldest but most under-appreciated sports in the world. In California and Hawaii, it is more widespread than in the rest of the U.S. combined. Australia is the only other country that hails surfing as one of its national pastimes. The birth of the sport came about in Polynesia where natives would draw cave paintings of people riding on waves as far back as the 12th century. At some point, the Polynesians traveled to the Hawaiian Islands. There, the Polynesians transferred the sport of surfing where it transcended to religious-like status for Pacific Islanders everywhere. Surfing has become an altruistic tool for the less fortunate around the world. Despite surfing’s lesser-known status in America, the sport has made an impact in underprivileged countries, particularly regions in Southeast Asia. Here is how surfing helps relieve global poverty.

SurfAid

SurfAid, a nonprofit organization founded in 2000, comes from a grassroots background. It has grown in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. Over the years, it has become one of the top charities in surfing, assisting local governments and communities to prevent mother and child deaths. In Indonesia, a mother dies every three hours and 20 babies die every other hour. SurfAid offers support by providing materials to observe the health of mothers and children.

For example, a simple, yet important material like a weighing scale allows doctors to ensure that patients’ body weight is on par with their age. Other materials include measuring tapes, record books and materials for teaching. Most importantly, SurfAid helps improve water and sanitation issues through building water tanks, water taps and toilets. Having clean water and sanitation prevents diarrhea for children under the age of five, giving them a better chance to survive.

SurfAid staffers also provide equipment and seeds for gardens as well as malaria nets. With this increase in practical support, basic hygiene has decreased diarrhea by more than 45%. Antenatal care also has been implemented into programs to educate mothers about healthy pregnancies. This care and education help prevent complications from occurring during pregnancy and childbirth. Additionally, through birth spacing, the process of mothers giving birth every two to three years, women can potentially “reduce infant mortality by 20%.”

SurfAid’s Work in Indonesia

SurfAid has also aided the island of Sumba. Located in Eastern Indonesia, the island is plagued by poverty, food insecurities and famine, making daily lives difficult. This has resulted in more than 60% of its children under five suffering from malnutrition.

SurfAid developed a project called the HAWUNA program, meaning ‘unity’ in Indonesian. The program works with more than 7,500 people in 16 different communities in the sub-district of Lamboya Barat to improve food insecurity. Additionally, the program educates parents on childcare in order to combat malnutrition. With access to clean water, sanitation and healthcare, there have been massive improvements in healthcare and healthy weight gain across the community.

SurfAid’s project development also includes the availability of support services. The organization’s collaborations with the communities are developed through detail-oriented results. Collaborations take into account the health, livelihoods, beliefs and social structure the people of each community have.

The Story of Dharani Kumar and Moorthy Meghavan

Another way to see how surfing helps relieve global poverty is through the story of Dharani Kumar. A 23-year old native Indian fisherman, Kumar started surfing in his teens in Kovalam Village using polystyrene foam as surfboards. After surfing for nine years under his mentor, Moorthy Meghavan, Kumar became a surfing champion in his homeland in 2015. The hobby he picked up as a teen did more than just provide an outlet for Kumar’s talent. Surfing also allowed Kumar to improve his networking opportunities around the world, as well as learn the English language.

In 2012, Kumar’s mentor, “Moorthy Meghavan founded the Covelong Point Social Surf School.” As a result of this school, Kumar and his group of friends pledged to stay away from drugs and alcohol. As a rule, if students started using or drinking, they were kicked out. Through this school, Meghavan was able to turn his dream of guiding poor, disadvantaged children away from addiction into a reality.

When Meghavan dropped out of school in sixth grade, he started fishing for a living to provide for his family. Though passionate about surfing, Meghavan was virtually unknown in the international surfing community. However, he still forged a plan to help children fight their way out of poverty through surfing.

Meghavan’s slogan, “No Smoke, No Drink, Only Surf”, has become instilled in the program. The program has paid dividends for locals looking for direction in their lives. Though substance abuse is somewhat prevalent in Kovalan Village, his guidance through his own experiences mixed with his passion for the sport has reflected on others. Though not a household name in surfing, Moorthy Meghavan has become a local legend by not only helping Dharani Kumar rise as a surfing star but also in guiding children to a better life.

The Impact of Surfing

What started out as an ancient art form by native Polynesians has now become an international phenomenon. Whether it’s providing assistance to those living in impoverished conditions or guiding children to a better lifestyle, there is no doubt that surfing helps relieve global poverty.

– Tom Cintula 
Photo: Flickr