The COVID-19 outbreak has taken a great toll on economies worldwide — and low-income groups are being hit hardest in the midst of uncertainties brought on by the pandemic.
Struggling to survive, the poor in Indonesia risk being subject to violence and losing their remaining assets — and even their lives.
Suara recently shed the spotlight on several of such cases in the archipelagic nation.
40-year-old man in Medan beaten by mobs for stealing 5kg of rice
On 21 April, Atek, a 40-year-old man from the city of Medan in North Sumatra, stole a 5-kilogram sack of rice.
He is a lathe operator who no longer has income because the pandemic makes it difficult for him to get consumers.
Mr Atek was caught in the act and was beaten up by the masses. Fortunately, the police came to the scene and saved him.
The police then visited his house and found out that the man lives alone as his wife and children have left him.
Mr Atek claimed that he had received aid package. However, he opted to give the package to his wife to feed their three children.
Father in Batam sold his broken cellphone to buy rice
Ason Sopian, a father living in Batam with five young children, once worked in a workshop but is now unemployed.
His wife sells tempeh and earns around S$92 a month, which is barely enough to feed the whole family, let alone to pay for their school fees.
During the pandemic, their earnings have decreased so sharply that they do not have anything left to eat.
Out of desperation, Mr Ason went from one house to another trying to sell his broken cellphone for S$1 so that he can buy a kilogram of rice for his children to eat.
A mother cried as she and her child had not had anything to eat for days
A scavenger sobbed when she got a donation of 1 sack of rice.
“I haven’t eaten for days. My children are also in misery. Thank you, good people, for helping,” she said in tears.
The woman is one of the recipients of free rice from the Free Food Operations program initiated by non-governmental organisation Aksi Cepat Tanggap (ACT).
A pedicab driver passed out due to starvation
A pedicab driver in the city of Cirebon in West Java collapsed on his own vehicle.
The Civil Service Police Unit (Satpol PP) initially suspected that the man had collapsed due to COVID-19.
However, findings from police investigations revealed that the man had passed out due to starvation.
It all started when a passerby saw the man was having convulsions. He then reported the incident to the local security officer.
The man, who was wearing an orange t-shirt, was lying stiff on his pedicab.
This story was first posted by a Twitter account @black_valley1 and reaped sympathies from netizens, with most of them saying that any assistance from the government was not yet on target.
A poor widow only has rice and chilli to eat
An elderly widow in Riau claimed that she barely has nothing to eat after the Pekanbaru City government implemented large scale social restrictions (PSBB) due to COVID-19.
Marni, affectionately known as Anik, had reportedly tried to ask about the data collection on residents who are eligible for social assistance from the government.
However, she said that the neighbourhood leader claimed there was no data collection, let alone the distribution of daily needs.
“Since this PSBB, we do not have anything else to eat, there’s no more. Because it’s not possible to earn money outside. So government assistance is what we expect the most,” Mdm Anik said, as reported by Riau Online.
Meanwhile, she said, the hamlet of her area took the action of distributing aid based on the closest person to him.
“His relatives got the aid, while the widow in the areas do not get any,” Mdm Anik said.
On the day the interview was held, Anik only ate white rice with ground side chillies with a little salt.
The chilli was a gift from her relative.
Mdm Anik said that she does not have a steady income and only depends on her daughter and her son-in-law. At the moment, her daughter and son-in-law cannot work either.
Her daughter is an employee in one of the theatres in Pekanbaru and to this day is still at home after the physical distancing policy. Her son-in-law, who works in one of the stores in SKA Mall, is also facing the same predicament.
“Since the pandemic, we don’t have any activities, there is no more money. We only rely on my youngest son who is still working at a minimarket,” she said.
Mother of four in Banten starve for days, eventually passes away
The story of Yuli Nur Amelia ended in a grave after days of starvation due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Mdm Yuli, then aged 43, lived with her husband and four kids in Serang City in Banten, West Java.
She and her family could not afford to buy food and only drank water for two days.
Every day, Yuli and her husband earn their living by becoming scavengers who got paid daily. However, restrictions imposed during the pandemic led to losing their income.
Mdm Yuli’s story went viral after renowned local news outlet Kompas held an interview with her.
Sadly, she passed away shortly after her story was aired.
She reportedly fainted at home and died on the way to the public health centre.
Chief of Sub-district Administration, TB Yasin, denied the deceased had died of starvation, claiming that the local government has also provided assistance.
However, the neighbourhood leader, Agus Jakaria told local media that he had brought the deceased family’s file to the government to get social assistance.
Their request was rejected, as it was written on the file that the head of the family worked as a janitor who was thought to have received a salary every month.
He claimed that the assistance from the government came only after the story of Mrs Yuli went viral.
Head of Serang City Communication and Information Office Hari Pamungkas said that the family had been recorded as one of the beneficiaries of aid in the COVID-19 task force, but the administration had limited capability to distribute the aid.
“Our resources are limited. We need [the help from] everyone. We cannot work by ourselves. We need all society to work together and support each other. Let’s not blame each other. We all are facing this pandemic together,” said Hari.
Although the health authority stated that starvation was not the cause of her death, this tragic story has
opened the public’s eyes about the ruthlessness of state administration.
Indonesia chose to impose PSSB instead of total lockdown
Wiku Adisasmito, who is on the task force for the handling of the COVID-19 outbreak in Indonesia, said that the government did not implement a total lockdown or quarantine in order to preserve economic activity in the community.
“In Indonesia, many workers rely on daily wages. That is one of the concerns of the government so that economic activity continues to run,” said Mr Adisasmito at the National Disaster Management Office (BNPB) in East Jakarta on 18 March.
Opposition parties have been urging the government to impose total lockdown to cut the transmission cycle.
Under Law Number 6 the Year 2018 regarding Health Quarantine, the basic living needs of people and animals in quarantine areas are the responsibility of the central government.
Critics allege that the central government has resisted a lockdown — and had instead chosen PSSB — to avoid providing aid to citizens in need.
Citing the Appeal of the University of Indonesia Faculty of Medicine (FKUI) Board of Associates regarding the handling of COVID-19 infections, the costs incurred if the capital city of Jakarta experiences a total lockdown (quarantine area) for 14 days is around S$368 million.
Referring to the calculations, if the total lockdown is carried out on a national scale, the food security fund for 265 million Indonesian citizens may reach a daily total of S$551 million, excluding funds for electricity and water.
By choosing to imply PSSB, the government is not required to provide basic necessity guarantees to all affected citizens.
Currently, the central government only provides compensation to the most vulnerable people, with Direct Cash Assistance (BLT) and pre-work cards (Kartu Pra-Kerja).
The total nationwide value of the Social Safety Net (JPS) funds is S$10,102,000,000.
However, local media reported that most of the funds don’t touch those who need it the most. One of the reasons is that many state institutions still practice nepotism, such as in the story of Mdm Anik above.