Indonesia's coronavirus lockdown takes toll on Jakarta's most vulnerable

Many have been badly hurt by Jakarta's lockdown aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA - Before the pandemic, Mr Sulang used to dish up as many as 200 plates of nasi goreng for as much as 40,000 rupiah ($3.95) a pop on a good night.

Now, even as the Covid-19 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 Mr Sulang - who goes by one name - is behind on his rent.

Like many, Mr Sulang, has been badly hurt by Jakarta's lockdown aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus 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 Mr Sulang, that 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," Mr Sulang, 59, said on a recent Friday evening.

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

"We found many families are poorer after Covid-19," said Ms Waode Asnawati, 45, of the women's wing of Muhammadiyah, the world's second biggest Muslim organisation.

Ms Waode's organisation, Aisyiyah, raised 200 billion rupiah for Covid-19 aid relief within two months - the fastest fund-raising for the group since the 2004 tsunami.

Even so, people in cities where migrants have been marooned during the lockdowns were donating less than usual.

"Everyone is scared and there's a lot of empathy for the poor and for 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.

By comparison, the group, which has 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.

Mr 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," Mr Kandali said. "Covid-19 is affecting everyone."

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

The office of President Joko Widodo released a video at the weekend of Mr Joko lambasting his ministers on June 18 and threatening a Cabinet reshuffle for their failure to distribute all but a sliver of some 75 trillion rupiah set aside to beef up the nation's response to the virus, which has already claimed more than 2,800 lives.

In the meantime, Jakarta's local government is providing 275,000 rupiah in food aid to each of 2.4 million families.

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

Unemployment in the formal sector may triple to 15 per cent by next February, said Mr Bhumi Yudhistira, an economist with the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance. The data doesn't 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 Mr 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 Mr Juna, who is married with a four-year-old son. "I get by somehow."

  • Additional reporting by Imam Shofwan

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.