Jakarta, Indonesia

by Paul McCarthy


Jakarta became a post-independence boomtown, more than quadrupling in size from 1975 to a population of 9.1 million in 1995. It now has a metropolitan population approaching 12 million, though the actual figure of inhabitants is a matter of speculation. Population density is extremely high.

Indonesia uses the term kampung, which literally means ‘village’, but which has come to denote a poorer neighbourhood that is contained within a city. However, as it comprises a mix of lower and middle class and frequently contains permanent buildings, it is not really synonymous with slums. Squatters are few and most residents have some sort of title to the land. Kampungs are really remnants of original villages upon which cities have encroached and not vice versa. The controversial transmigration policies of the Suharto government may have eased the urban growth pressures; but rapid industrialization of the 1970s and 1980s has counterbalanced attempts to stem urban growth.Jakarta’s growth is higher than the official figures, as it excludes seasonal migrants who may spend as much as ten months per year in Jakarta. It is estimated that 20 to 25 per cent of Jakarta residents live in kampungs, with an additional 4 to 5 per cent squatting illegally along riverbanks, empty lots and floodplains. Renters and squatters who have managed to set up homes in the 490 pockets of poverty in Jakarta are gradually being squeezed out due to skyrocketing land prices and speculation. The past 20 years saw the land area occupied by kampungs in Jakarta reduced by 50 per cent. As a result, nearly half of the families have been relocated to Jakarta’s outlining areas.

Population projections indicate that urban dwellers will surpass their rural counterparts as a percentage of the total between 2010 and 2015, rising to 60 per cent by 2025. At the same time, land prices and land speculation have dramatically reduced available land for low-income housing. Families who were pushed out set up residence in outlying areas, creating new squatter, illegal and semi-legal settlements.

Jakarta is a melting pot of the strong ethnic identities of Indonesians; but, fortunately, a sense of shared solidarity among the poor and the near poor tends to keep social and ethnic tensions that have disrupted Indonesia for the past half decade at bay – at least within the confines of the kampungs.

Since kampungs are not administrative entities, nobody really knows with any real degree of accuracy how many of Jakarta’s inhabitants call kampungs home. Furthermore, not everyone living there is poor. For more than 30 years, the Suharto government sought to impose total control over the citizenry, co-opting traditional institutions and leadership and making them subservient to government-controlled structures. Crony capitalism became commonplace, increasing the gap between rich and poor. Corruption and nepotism came to flourish to the point where even the most menial of bureaucratic tasks would seldom be completed without a bribe. The period of prolonged economic growth under Suharto saw many new roads being built and a functioning public transportation system; sewer and drainage systems were also constructed, and the national electricity grid was extended into almost all regions. However, local government revenue fell increasingly short of needs, and infrastructure deteriorated rapidly through sheer lack of maintenance. The state-owned monopolies in water and sanitation, power and telecommunications were operated with an inefficiency remarkable even by most developing country standards. Government policies and programmes for housing have been entirely inadequate in meeting the needs of the urban poor; for all intents and purposes, the government abdicated its role in the provision of housing. The reform in the wake of Suharto’s resignation did little to change politics at the local level.

This summary has been extracted from:

UN-Habitat (2003) Global Report on Human Settlements 2003, The Challenge of Slums, Earthscan, London; Part IV: 'Summary of City Case Studies', pp195-228.
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2003 Development Planning Unit | Anna Soave | Khanh Tran-Thanh