Lockdown takes a toll on Jakarta’s most vulnerable citizens

Many have been badly hurt by Jakarta's lockdown aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus.-- The Straits Times/ANN

BEFORE Covid-19, Sulang used to dish up as many as 200 plates of nasi goreng for as much as 40,000 rupiah (RM16.90) a pop on a good night.

Now, even as the lockdown unwinds, he thinks twice about setting up his food cart at his regular spot – the once bustling Palmerah market in downtown Jakarta.

His landlady had locked up his room with his possessions inside because Sulang, 59, who goes by one name, is behind on his rent.

Like many, Sulang, has been badly hurt by Jakarta’s lockdown aimed at limiting the spread of the virus that causes Covid-19.

Jakarta and neighbouring West Java have been slowly lifting restrictions since early June. Restaurants and shopping malls have reopened, subject to strict capacity limits. Schools remain closed.

But there’s little prospect of a return to the regular rhythm of the capital. For folks like Sulang, it means no prospect of waves of football fans, for example, filing out of Jakarta’s main Bung Karno Stadium – about 1km away – past his cart.

“If I set up now, I wouldn’t break even,” he said.

Aid groups are scrambling with the twin challenges of surging demand for their services and faltering donations from a donor pool broadly hurt by the virus.

“Many families are poorer after Covid-19,” said Waode Asnawati, 45, of Muhammadiyah, the world’s second-biggest Muslim organisation.

Waode’s organisation, Aisyiyah, raised 200 billion rupiah (RM59,000) for Covid-19 relief in two months – the fastest fund-raising effort for them since the 2004 tsunami. Still, people in cities where migrants have been marooned during lockdowns donated less than usual.

“Everyone is scared. There’s a lot of empathy for the poor and those who are out of work,” she said.

At Humanity First, a much smaller non-profit run by the Ahmadiyah Muslim sect, organisers called off a charity drive to raise money for care packages of food and household needs after it raised 33 million rupiah (RM9,800).

By comparison, the group, with its 60,000 members, raised 10 times that amount in the aftermath of the 2018 Palu earthquake and tsunami in Central Sulawesi, which claimed more than 4,300 lives.

Kandali Achmad Lubis, Humanity First’s Indonesia coordinator, said crimped incomes made it tougher to raise funds.

“In Palu and for the tsunami, the disaster was in one place. Covid-19 is affecting everyone,” he said.

Making matters worse is the fact that government aid is slow in getting through.

The office of President Joko Widodo released a video of him lambasting ministers on June 18 and threatening a Cabinet reshuffle for their failure to distribute all but a sliver of some 75 trillion rupiah (RM22.3bil) set aside to beef up the nation’s response to Covid-19, which has already claimed more than 2,800 lives.

Meanwhile, Jakarta’s local government is providing 275,000 rupiah (RM82) in food aid to each of 2.4 million families.

The central government has expanded existing assistance for the poorest families to include discounted electricity and 200,000 rupiah (RM59) a month for nine months that can be spent on staples.

Unemployment in the formal sector may triple to 15% by next February, said Bhumi Yudhistira, an economist with the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance.

The data does not account for a torpid informal sector.

Around 6.4 million Indonesians have lost their jobs and new rounds of layoffs are likely to hit the economy by August, the country’s chamber of commerce and industry (Kadin) said.

The struggle continues for those like Juna, 26, who has had to bed down on the periphery of a wet market in Kebayoran Lama, in Jakarta’s south.

Before the pandemic, he sold toys to motorists gnarled in traffic.

Now he makes ends meet by setting up stalls for vendors in exchange for a place to sleep.

“I still send money to my family,” said Juna, who is married with a four-year-old son. “I get by somehow.” — The Straits Times/ANN

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