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On world's most crowded island, Pak Hasan and family try to survive on $3 a day

By Kieran CookeSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / May 7, 1984



Jakarta

Pak Hasan is the driver of a becak, Indonesia's version of that muscle-pumping, cycle-driven carriage of many Asian countries. Every day he waits at one of Jakarta's markets, alert for a customer. He struggles and sweats along main roads and side streets, earning on average about 3,000 rupiahs ($3) for a 12- to 15-hour day.

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Pak Hasan came to Jakarta three years ago from his small village in central Java. Ever since he has supported himself and his family of four by ferrying people about the city. While he does not like his job, he sees no alternative. He was forced to come to Jakarta when he could no longer keep his land in the village because of unpaid debts. But he did not have the necessary permit to live in Jakarta, and he could not afford to pay the considerable under-the-table fee to obtain one.

Now he finds himself and his family trapped in poverty, living in makeshift, illegal housing. There are thousands if not millions of cases like Pak Hasan's around the world. But he was dealt a further blow recently when the Jakarta authority decreed that all becaks must be removed from the city's streets by the end of the year. The authorities say becaks are a hazard.

The government hopes people like Pak Hasan, having lost their livelihoods, will return to their villages or join a transmigration scheme in which people from crowded Java are settled on one of Indonesia's other islands. Jakarta has become almost unbearably crowded. The population, a half million in 1945, is about 7 million today.

Like many cities of rapidly developing countries, Jakarta has become both the symbol and the victim of progress. Bangkok and Manila have similar difficulties: a transport system clogged by cars, illegal squatter buildings, inadequate water supplies, and little pollution control.

The city administration is having trouble combatting overcrowding. While some plans, such as the village-improvement scheme, have improved life for many, even the most well-thought-out projections are overtaken by a fresh influx of people.

Some radical solutions have been proposed. One under consideration involves shipping some 20,000 city vagrants to an offshore island and teaching them a skill before they are moved elsewhere.

The governor of Jakarta and others want to curb the city's high growth rate. By conservative projections, Jakarta will have at least 13 million people by the end of the century. The authorities think many of these will settle in areas around Jakarta rather than in the city itself. But some within the administration see no alternative to growth in the city itself.

A senior planning officer says that even if trans-migration and birth control programs are successful, the population of Java - already the world's most crowded island - will be at least 120 million by the year 2000. Since the rural economy can support only a limited number of people, there is no alternative to urban growth.