You know a country is overpopulated when people cannot afford to queue. In Indonesia this is visible every day at bus and train stations.
Transport facilities have long lost their battle with exploding demand.
Even the most polite people turn into animal-like creatures when a bus or train arrives. Something that might have looked like a queue disappears instantly and the best and most aggressive pushers are getting on board. Unless every inch inside the vehicle is taken already.
I have learned this the hard way. Trying to be polite will cost you many hours of waiting on a weekly basis. The only real queues are the long lines of cars queuing patiently day-in, day-out on nearly every stretch of road in every major city. Yes, it is that bad.
Onboard a bus or train, the situation is hardly any better. I cannot help thinking about sardines. Passengers, deep in each other’s private space, have one thing in common: An empty gaze on their faces revealing their attempt to temporarily exit from humanity.
These daily scenes remind me of those ahead of the Eid festival when rich people hand out money to the poor who die fighting for a few dollars. Or those of children offered candy. Rarely-seen aggression on their innocent faces when they are trying to get their share. Politely waiting for your turn is only affordable to those who know there is enough for everyone.
Demographic experts warn this is just the beginning. If the population boom continues, Indonesia will face problems a lot worse than transport nightmares or people fighting for small cash.
Already Indonesia is facing housing, water and food shortages and massive natural destruction. For years now, the country has imported basic food like rice because there are not enough fields to grow food for its 250 million people. These food shortages will only get worse according to experts.
Not many Indonesians would blame overpopulation for these problems. Ineffective government, corruption, God or nature – anything but the size of their families is to blame. An important credo says “many children means many benefits”. The idea that children are the safest retirement plan is still prevalent. And with democratisation the country has given its people the liberty to produce as many as they like.
Meanwhile, the government proudly keeps citing statistics. Indonesia, the fourth largest country in the world, the third largest democracy, the tenth largest economy.
The word overpopulation has turned into a much more friendly term: demographic bonus; hundreds of millions of people are an interesting crowd for investors, or when it comes to power on a geopolitical level.
But what about quality of life? A term more frequently used now. When are Indonesians finally getting tired of battling for survival or simply struggling to get to work every day?
With a fast-growing middle class, the demand for quality of life is increasing around the country. Fresh air, clean drinking water, proper education, efficient public services will all be just a dream for most Indonesians as long as the credo “more children, more benefits” still exists.