The Vicious Cycle of Poverty
by HABIBI YUSUF SARJONO
Student of Defence Management Master Program
Bandung Institute of Technology
The notion of security concept has been developed over centuries in the world. Since human being found the form of state and the relation among international community, security then became the main issue to maintain their existential life and civilisation.
The basic definition of security is defined as “condition of being protected from or not exposed to danger” (Oxford Dictionary). When it was implemented in nation-state context, this concept was dealing with the protection of state territorial integrity, sovereignty, and freedom from the other existential threats.
With any reason of national interest, for centuries, countries are attempting to protect their territorial integrity from other countries’ attack in one side, while on the other side also trying to occupy other countries to obtain political and economic purposes. World War I and World War II might be the clear evidence of that notion, with millions of people as the victims.
After the end of Cold War, when the focus of national interests are not on war against national existential threat anymore, many states shifted the concern of their national security to the people-centred security. This concept was known as “human security”. The 1994 UNDP Human Development Report defined human security based on two main components: freedom from fear and freedom from want, which form part of origin and foundation of the United Nation. ‘Freedom from fear’ is intended to indicate freedom from violence, and the phrase ‘freedom from want’ indicated freedom from poverty.
This concept was actually not a new concept, but then become “popular” since many countries realise its important to build the national security interest and to achieve the main function of state in delivering services to the citizens. UNDP also grouped seven categories that affect various sphere of human security: economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community security, and political security.
From the understanding above, the state’s action to fulfil its obligation in providing human security is as well as protecting the basic human right for its citizens, not only civic and political rights, but also economic, social and cultural rights.
While freedom from poverty is one of the main parts of human security, many countries in the world still suffer from this issue. The distribution of economic development is a difficult thing to provide in order to achieve national welfare, not excluded for Indonesia.
As one of the biggest countries in the world, Indonesia has many citizens spreading to all over 17,000 islands in 33 provinces. Since the Independence Day in 1945, the national development has been performed in accordance with Basic Constitution 1945 to fulfil the general welfare for the people. But in 2008, the number of people under poverty line is 34.96 millions (15.42% of total population), with the total unemployment number is about 10%.
In 2006, BPS issued data that GDP per capita in Jakarta province achieved Rp 55.9 millions, while in North Maluku is Rp 3 millions (only one-eighteenth). It means that over the years, this disparity of welfare problem still exists. Considering the other facts that show significant disparity among the provinces, Indonesia still has big homework to cope the poverty problem.
While the government also focuses on the other problems, this poverty problem is can’t be neglected. We still remember when government decided to increase the fuel price since 2005; the poverty issue was very largely debated in number and strategy to cope the negative impact. As a result, government made controversial provision about direct and cash aid (Bantuan Langsung Tunai/BLT) given to the poor as “giving fish” rather than “giving hook”, which were issued again in mid 2008 for the same policy.
We shouldn’t forget that economic (poverty) problems were became one of the root causes on some conflicts in the past (and even present), either horizontal or vertical conflicts. The inequality access of economic resources in Sampit, Kalimantan (2001) and the unsatisfied with central government’s policy on economic and development in Aceh (irregardless of other root causes) had been exacerbating both the scope and victim of the conflicts at that time.
With no doubt that poverty can stimulate other complex problems, mainly on security, can be explained with the “vicious cycle” model. Peter Middlebrook described this cycle as “a complex of events that reinforces itself through a feedback loop toward greater instability, which resulting deleterious effects”.
Poverty, which is caused by many factors, contributes to make social disparity between societies. One who has greater access and income of economy will be wealthier than other who hasn’t the same access. If the social and justice structures in the society are not sufficient to maintain harmony and diversity, the disparity can induce other sensitive issues, especially the hidden problems which exist from the past. Then, some different identities such as religion, ethnic, race, and even political patronages are just becoming the rhetorical justification to the vulnerabilities.
When the conflicts happen, either horizontal with other societal individual and groups, or vertical with government/state actor (military, police), it will worse the security environment. Many people become victim, economic activities are unstable, investments climate are not secure, unrest and degradation of trust in society, and usually followed by the uncertainty in law and justice.
Furthermore, the inappropriate solving conflicts method can make the (local) government more ineffective. The energy will be exhausted in handling something unproductive. If they can’t find the main root of the problem, sometimes the conflict itself becoming worse, especially when the government choose to use the violent way (i.e. military operation—and that is the common way taken by government in the past).
Using violent approach in controlling internal security is just making the conflict more complicated. Not only broadening the scope and victim, this approach can also make traumatic feeling to the people. In sequence, when they can’t find the appropriate justice in the society, this trauma will be delivered trough generations.
If this logical cycle meets the authoritarian or corrupt government, it will continue to the start point of the cycle itself. Injustice, corrupt, elite-oriented and centralized economic policy tend to urge the unwell-distributed economic access to the grass-root people. Completed with bad education access for the poor, then the poverty is just becoming the eternal problem to the society.
To turn over the vicious cycle into what we called “virtuous cycle” is not easy. But we have to find the turning point to start with. It means, there should be defined one or more symptoms that can be intervened by the authority in order to repair the condition.
Considering the concept of human security, Indonesia actually had formulated it in the Basic Constitution 1945 which is based on the national ideology (Pancasila). The constitution is completely regulate the basic rights of the people, start from life rights, political rights, equity under law, economic rights, education rights, cultural rights, and even social insurance rights.
Freedom from poverty as the symbol of ‘freedom from want’ is mainly based on two aspects: access and distribution of economic resources, and the quality of human resources. The first aspect is dealing with the endorsement from the government, and the second aspect dealing with the capability of the people themselves. One important lesson from the unrest conflict in many African countries until today is that the poverty and illiteracy are symbiotically exacerbating the insecurity environment.
The access and distribution of economic resources can be achieved by several ways: providing good regulation and appropriate law to stimulate investment, providing good infrastructures to bridge the economic activities across the region, eradicating corruption and providing better service to start or maintain business, empowering community-based economic (cooperative), and facilitating people to the better market.
Meanwhile, the quality of human resources is intended to fill the people capability in order to run their daily lives, including economic activities. This can be obtained only by the education (whether formal or informal). When people are well educated, they will understand what are the environment tell them, and how to manage them to fulfil their needs. It is not necessarily to provide skilled labour by education, but larger from that is to enlighten and bring the window of the world, so that people can define and do what is the best for them, including how to manage the differences in society and face the potential root of conflict. In addition, providing wide access of qualified education is the main issue for the government in this area.
Better economic life and educated people will stimulate better civilisation to the country. They can manage all diversities and environmental challenges by themselves, including societal security. Since the basic needs (human security) are achieved, the government doesn’t need to worry about the security problem. It only has to manage them by providing justice and good service. Because, when people are already feel free from their fear and their want, they will together move forward to reach the national interest, as defined by the development goals. It is simple logical way, but very hard to implemented.