The Faults of Indonesia’s Urbanization

At risk of sounding grandiose, urbanization has driven progress since the dawn of man. People being in closer proximity to each other allows for specialization, and with specialization comes greater productivity. It allows for greater efficiency of communication, and often creates rapid intellectual blooms, formations of archives and universities, and the documentation of all of our research and knowledge. Without hyperbole, it can be said that humanity’s greatest achievements happen in our cities. But what happens when it just doesn’t quite work out?

jakarta slums

Indonesia, a large and rapidly growing nation composed of thousands of islands in southeast Asia, has seen some pretty remarkable growth in the past half century. In terms of population and growth, it remains in a similar range as Malaysia and the Philippines. Where it differs from these countries is in its massive increase in urban population.

indonesia rural v urban

As this table illustrates, The ratio of urban to rural citizens became 1:1 in 2010 and is expected to reach 1:2 by 2050. At a cursory glance, that looks great for Indonesia. China is undergoing a very similar process, in fact, the amount of land being urbanized in Indonesia is second only to China. With more urbanization comes GDP growth: for China, 10% GDP growth per 1% urbanization. For Indonesia, however, this is not the case.


Indonesia’s GDP has struggled to climb meaningfully, some sources say as little as 4% GDP per 1% urbanization. So what does this lackluster growth lead to? An increase in population without an increase of product to match leads to, at best, a stagnation of poverty and at worse, worsening quality of life.

poverty in indonesia


While the Gini coefficient has risen, given the rate of urbanization, it’s rather unremarkably so. What’s more, the access to important services has actually regressed. While a decade ago, 50% of households had access to safe water, that number has since fallen to 48%. Sewage covers only 11 of the nation’s 98 cities and less than 2% of city residents have access to it.

Jakarta Urban Breakdown


We can see in this figure that with the urbanization the outer suburbs and core city of Jakarta, Indonesia’s largest urban center, have actually not increased. Instead, we see the creation of a new classification all together. 


jakarta slums 2


These areas tend to be very poor and lacking basic necessities. If these people are so close to the city then, why is it they are not only left poor but also in need of basics?

First and foremost, Indonesia really has not done much to improve their infrastructure. In the mid to late 2000’s, while China was spending around 10% of its GDP on infrastructure, Indonesia spent a measly 3%. Furthermore, this rapid expansion puts strain on already existing infrastructure, worsening its condition and efficiency.

While it would certainly behoove Indonesia to invest in its infrastructure, creating temporary low skill jobs and improving quality of life, what it really needs to focus on to see the rapid growth of its cohorts is industrialization.


GDP breakdown


We can see that Indonesia’s former sources of income, mining and agriculture have fallen off, and manufacturing as seen some increase. We know that urbanization with industrialization means success in the modern world. However, we can see with Indonesia as a shining example, that urbanization without adequate industrialization leads to the creation of slums, and decreased quality of life for many of its citizens.

Urban Rise in Vietnam

Vietnam is facing rapid urbanization, and its cities are expected to be host to roughly half of all its citizens by 2030. This urbanization is due to the large increase in job opportunities within cities. The rapid urbanization of Vietnamese cities is also leaving rural migrants in terrible living conditions, and their lack of access to social services is posing a big problem.


There has been a significant rise in Vietnam’s population living in urban areas over the past 50+ years.

The continuous growth of Vietnam’s urban population signals the shift from a focus on agriculture to a more industrial based economy. This is seemingly beneficial, as cities create more jobs, education opportunities, and other important social services.

There is a drastic difference in technology and talent rank, which matches up with the heavy dependence on major cities for Vietnam. Their technology rank may be high, but that is due to specifically the major cities, as the rural population lacks economic stability.

“The Urban Elite Global Cities Index is a ranking of the most global cities based on five aspects of globalization: business activity, human capital, information exchange, cultural experience, and political engagement.”

Despite having a population of over one million more people than Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City ranks over 100 spots lower on the Global Cities Index list. Urbanization in Vietnam has been very inefficient so far, as there is a rapid increase in urban population, but a lack of economic development to match it.

Ho Chi Minh City ranks very low in terms of economic output per person, at the equivalent to $8,660.

Along with the Global Cities Index figure, Ho Chi Minh Citys low economic output shows the lack of economic development for Vietnam, despite rapid urbanization.

The problem with urbanization in the east is that unlike the west, southeast Asian countries like Vietnam are urbanizing without significant growth.

There is a strategy for Vietnam in their urbanization process. The strategy focuses on spreading out the urban population, reducing losses of agricultural land, moving polluting factories out of cities, and improving urban services. Vietnam must harness its full potential in this wave of urbanization by developing its system of cities. It seems clear that the main issue for urbanization in Vietnam is overgrowth of population in cities. The clear solution to this is developing a plethora of cities and a system that links them all together, thus spreading out the urban population.

Speaking broadly, it seems as though the solution to Vietnam’s urbanization problems are somewhat straightforward. However, the country must modernize and reform its coordination in government and planning systems in order to carry out programs to execute these solutions.

The rural, Nomadic ways of Mongolians living in the steppes may be dying out, due to particular weather patterns killing their livestock. Winters in Mongolia bring on a strange, ultra-cold weather phenomenon known as a “Dzud.” They occur when the summer drought combines with the severe winter temperatures. In the past, these dzuds seem to stick to a 5-year cycle but in the past few years, they have increased in frequency. Aid officials warn that nobody pays attention to this silent killer, but the impact is severe. This means serious problems for livestock owners, as dzuds leave thousands of animals dead.

An animal's skull in the snow

In Mongolia, it hasn’t rained since July 2017. The grass is now unable to grow in the steppes during the summer and the grazing animals cannot put on enough weight to withstand the winter. Herders rely on their animals for everything. From the meat, milk, and skins, to the animal waste they burn to heat their homes. Losing their animals can mean a fall into poverty.

A herdsman on a horse next to a pile of animal carcasses

So far this year over a million animals have died from the dzuds. Due to the lack of a support system, the only other choice is to abandon herder life and move to the city for work. Over the last 20 years, the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar, has seen a 70% population increase due to the dzuds.  Mongolian’s Land Law of 1994 entitles every Mongolian to 1.2 acres of land within the limits of urban centers, free of charge, for a term of 15-60 years. The perceived improved living conditions of cities employment and education opportunities helped spur this migration.

Steppe-dwelling Mongolians typically live in “gers” all through the year.  A ger is a traditional tent-like dwelling used by Mongolian people from early times until today. Gers are house-like structures that look like a small yurt.

Image result for mongolia social issues

Groupings of the gers have made their place on the outskirts of the capital city. The rapid urbanization due to the inability to sustain their past lives in the steppes, is the main cause of these ‘ger’ districts.

Figure 1: Ger district sections. Aqua blue- river basin, bright orange-central ger areas, orange-middle ger areas, yellow-peripheral ger areas, grey-the city, green-green areas/camp zone. Source: Ulaanbaatar City Development Strategy-2020 and Development Trend till 2030.This map of Ulaanbaatar shows the sprawling and extended nature of the ger areas. Those living in the gers face social prejudice as well as increasingly limited access to basic human needs. The prejudice towards people living in these areas continues to cause a social rift in the community. The lack of availability and accessibility of local transportation is one of the most pressing issues for Ulaanbaatar’.Woman with mask in Mongolia

People walk over 1km on roads in horrible conditions just to reach the nearest bus stop or medical facility. Because they are so long and extended, it is hard to get proper services (water, sewer, electricity, even postal service). They use stoves to heat their poorly insulated gers,  as well as cook their 3 meals a day, running them at all hours.  80 percent of all pollution in Ulaanbaatar is caused by ger stoves, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).Pollution in Mongolia

in December it experienced pollution levels five times higher than in Beijing. Trying to survive in the world’s coldest capital is expensive: many throw everything onto the family stove—old shoes, tires, and scrap plastic. Pneumonia caused by the particles in the air is causing the city’s hospitals to fill with sick children, accounting for 15% of all deaths.

Image result for mongolia social issues

There is no doubt the ger areas are a massive issue for Mongolia’s capital. In 2013 the Mongolian Parliament passed planning to build housing for the increased population in ger areas. Above shows the hopeful future and differences between the regulation city apartments and the unregulated, sprawling ger areas where so many people have come to live in the past few years.

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Favelas in Rio de Janeiro

Brazilian urban slums, known as favela, resulted from rapid urbanization in Rio de Brazil, and present many health and safety problems but the government failed to improve the situation because of housing crisis, unevenly divided resources in Rio, and inefficient programs.

Located on the outskirts of countries’ largest cities, like Rio de Janeiro, were originally formed by impoverished former slaves in the late 19th century, but proliferated by migration from 1940s to 1970s.

From 1950 to 2015, the percentage of Brazilian population living in urbanization jumped from 36.5% to 87.5% and it is estimated that by 2030, up to 90.5% of the population will live in cities. As Brazilian government try to expand metropolises, the rural poor found themselves relegated below the elite in the city center. The poor squeeze into urban areas for job opportunities, higher qualities of education, and health care but it turns out they may live in crowded and dangerous favelas. For example, approximately two million individuals, 22.03 percent of population, live in favelas of Rio De Janeiro.

Social Divides and Urbanization in Brazil

Favelas in Rio are dangerous and crude; they are built on steep slope where buildings can’t be built on. They are mainly made of cardboard, corrugated iron or scrap wood, which offer little protection from elements and can’t support homes safely. Majority of them lack in water, electricity or a safe means of sanitation so favelas are susceptible to disease outbreaks. They are always far from shops, schools or transportation routes as well.

Image result for favela rio

Rocinha is the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro. It is estimated that anywhere from 150 thousand to 300 thousand residents crowded in the 0.8 square miles of Rocinha. Houses in Rocinha are built nine, ten, or eleven stories tall to fit 21 neighborhoods.


Due to lack of infrastructure, especially sanitation, Rocinha is ranked 120 out of the 126 neighborhoods in Rio on the Human Development Index. People in Rocinha suffered from tuberculosis and other contagious diseases as other favelas. Another major problem with Rocinha is that the population of Rocinha is younger and less educated than other favelas. Violence is a major concern here. Due to Wrld Cup and Olympics in 2016, Rocinha’s young population connects more to the world around and looks for a better future with better education, less violence and less disease.


Cities lack enough spaces to accommodate migrant people and the situation is worsened by the Brazilian housing crisis. The housing shortage around 7 million units, most among those earning less than minimum wage.  In fact, Brazil has enough housing but the most housing estates exist vacant in urban centers for real-estate investment. Housing investments exist mainly in more wealthy urban areas where favela residents can’t afford. The resources that are supposed to be devoted to favelas remain stagnant in city centers.

The Brazilian government has run multiple programs to eliminate or reduce favela violence problem in Rio but they all failed. In 1930s and 40s, the government launched a favela removal program to redistribute all the favela residents but it failed to solve the root problem of Rio’s housing shortage. The favela’s population continued to grow steadily during 1960s, 60s, and 70s. The government constantly redistributed residents during these years but the result wasn’t satisfying. As a result, the government officials eventually decided that a complete elimination of favela was impossible. In 1998, the Pacifying Police Unit(UPP) program was launched, which stationed 9,500 officers in 37 favelas, serving nearly 780,000 people.

It sought to end violent confrontation between rival gangs by getting weapons out of the favelas and maintaining a permanent police presence. At first the program worked and the homicide rates went down largely.

But overtime police officers have gradually reduced the practice of community policing and become more repressive. Tension between the police and residents rose. By 2015, armed gangs had returned to once-pacified favelas and the UPPs were disappearing. Police also feel frustrated in favelas because they found themselves helpless and had to choose between daily shootouts and a coexistence between gangs and police.  Due to Brazil’s economic crisis, police haven’t been paid in months so that also kidnap suspects, take bribes and negotiate to save lives of criminals. The violence and crossfire in favelas isn’t fundamentally resolved up until today.

Favelas in Brazil is still an urgent issue for Brazilian government to settle. Without proper measures to reduce the number and stop the violence inside, it will only get worse and hurt the benefits of citizens living in the inside circle.


Indonesia is Now Facing the Consequences of Rapid Urbanization

Since 1995, an increasing number of Indonesian citizens are moving from rural Indonesia into the urban cities, like Jakarta. By 2025 it is estimated that 68 percent of Indonesia’s population will be living in these urban cities, that are expanding at a rate of 4.1 percent per year. While the rapid urbanization is changing the once rural economy into an urban economy, which opens the doors to more foreign investments, the toll of rapid urbanization is becoming increasingly apparent. Traffic congestion has worsened, leading to increasing pollution and making many Indonesian citizens vulnerable to poverty, and the central government has neglected the infrastructure of the major cities.

Source: Indonesia Investments

Recently, many impoverished Indonesians that have no or very little education are moving to urban cities in hopes that they may obtain jobs to better their families lives. The downside is that Indonesia’s heavily populated urban cities are failing to provide jobs for the city newcomers, causing Indonesia’s urban poverty and unemployment rates to rise. This comes as a shock after Indonesia’s central government created more than 20 million jobs between 2001-2011. In fact, city dwellers that do manage to obtain a job making twice as much money compared with their rural counterparts, according to the Central Statistics Agency. Of course, many new coming city dwellers have become vulnerable to poverty because of the worsening traffic congestion in cities like Jakarta and the lack of funding for bettering infrastructure. The president of Meikarta, an architectural innovations company, said, “Today, people typically spend three to four hours a day [in traffic], wasting precious fuel and adding to air pollution. This makes workers less productive.” His company along with many others are aiming to provide affordable housing to around a million workers in the area, hopefully raising productivity and bringing many people out of poverty.

Source: City Metric

Aside from increasing pollution and traffic congestion, as a result of urbanization, a lack of investment in Indonesian infrastructure also plagues the increasing population densities of urban cities. Although the Indonesian government has been raising its infrastructure development budget significantly since 2014, the central government does not have enough financial means to finance all the required infrastructure developments across the country, specifically in the growing cities. Because of the central government’s low financials, private participation in the nation’s infrastructure development, by foreign investors, is needed. A report by the World Bank entitled “Indonesia’s Urban Story,” noted, “The quality of urban infrastructure is poor in Indonesia, and access to basic services, such as clean water, sanitation, electricity, and transportation, has remained generally limited and not well distributed.” It has become increasingly apparent that the size of the urban infrastructure deficit is constraining Indonesia’s urban cities. Indonesia’s private sector is trying to battle against the underinvestment in infrastructure by building entirely new, cheap urban developments near sprawling manufacturing areas, allowing families to save money on both transportation and housing.

Image result for infrastructure deficit in indonesiaSource: Bloomberg

As urbanization rapidly rises in Indonesia the urban population is quickly increasing as the rural population continues to shrink. Although Indonesia is transitioning into an urban country, pollution, traffic congestion, and underinvestment in infrastructure continue to plague Indonesia’s urban cities.