COVID-19 and Indonesia: 12 years of progress under threat

For over 250 million people around the world, the numbers don’t lie: there will indeed be a PRE COVID-19 world and a POST COVID-19 world. As things stand, Indonesia, like many other countries, is grappling with disaffected youth, growing educational inequalities, and a future fraught with often insurmountable obstacles for women seeking real economic opportunities.

This is the world that Dea Augustin is living in. She is a 13-year-old orphan taken under the wing of Talitha Koumi and Kusuma Bongas. She lives with her grandmother and they are among the poorest of the poor, earning an average of $1.90 per day. The world is currently being hit by a perfect storm of COVID, armed conflict, and climate change. These 3 phenomena combined will push an additional 99 million people into extreme poverty.

As for today, about 257 million people earn $3.20 a day. Of these, the 15-24 age group in Indonesia is hard hit. But there are major differences between the less fortunate in rural areas, who are under-educated and resigned to their fate, and the youth in the suburbs. They are better educated, more urbanized, and much less likely to do agricultural work in rice fields, for example. Because they are more aware of what is happening around them, this segment of the population may not accept being sidelined so easily and always suffer the consequences of decisions that are not under their control.

Currently, Talitha Koumi is able to accompany Dea (and 13 other girls) in continuing her education. She is currently in middle school and her dream is to become a doctor. As the graph illustrates, the situation of extreme poverty in Asia had been improving steadily since the stock market crash of 2008, but the current pandemic has distorted all the maps.

Economists use the GINI index to assess the distribution of wealth in a population. The higher the index, the greater the inequality. Since March 2020, this index has continued to increase and Asia is the first region affected, followed by sub-Saharan Africa.

Concretely, if we combine the GINI index with the fact that 25% of the Indonesian population has not worked since March, the country (and the countries of South Asia) is heading towards an unprecedented human catastrophe despite all the measures implemented by the Indonesian government.

Whoever says that increasing inequality means increasing human trafficking. Traffickers rely on the fragility and distress of potential victims to trap them in their nets. At such times, many parents see their daughter as nothing more than a way out of extreme poverty, and many young girls, orphaned or abandoned by their families, have no choice but to sell their bodies to have a place to live and eat.

Talitha Koumi has been working for over 3 years in the Indramayu district, the cradle of prostitution in Indonesia (to access our report on this subject, click HERE). When we know that just 20 years ago, there was no electricity, running water or paved roads in the village of Bongas, it would be illusory to believe that Dea’s situation will improve like no other magic.


A typical of the village of Bongas, Indramayu district, West Java

It is inevitable that a serious economic crisis will hit the entire planet due to the drastic measures that have had to be taken, or not, to stem the pandemic. Of course, the various solutions are not giving the expected results, the WORLDOMETER site (link) counted 54,724,085 people infected with more than 1.3 million deaths. Never has a health crisis had such a significant impact and, apart from a hypothetical vaccine that is highly anticipated, there is no indication that the equestrian remedies applied by governments are not causing more problems than the disease itself.

For Dea and her little sister to have a realistic hope of getting out of this, NGOs like Talitha Koumi and Yayasan Kusuma Bongas must be able to continue their work. As unrealistic as it may seem to a Canadian or an American, many Indonesian workers cannot work from home either because the Internet is not accessible or because their livelihood does not allow them to work from home.

Let’s face it, difficult times are coming. This pandemic will concretely lead to a minimum of 100 million new people in extreme poverty, the life expectancy and the quality of life of hundreds of millions of people will be affected and South Asia will be one of the most affected regions.

This is why Talitha Koumi needs you more than ever. There are 300