Civil groups work to help low-income citizens weather COVID-19 hardship
Doris Sianturi, 40, a street vendor from North Jakarta’s district of Pademangan, has stayed home for the last five days. The place where he usually works, the Ancol Dreamland amusement park, has been shut down by the Jakarta administration for two weeks to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Most of Doris’ working life has been spent in the amusement park complex, selling toys and accessories, he said.
The father of two is now struggling to find a place to sell his wares. “What can we do? It’s a disaster. Even if I choose to sell, where? Other places are just the same [closed],” he said, adding that it was rare for a man his age to find a new job.
On Friday, the provincial administration closed tourist sites in Jakarta, including the National Monument (Monas) and the Ragunan Zoo. It also suspended the city’s weekly car-free day for two weeks. The administration has urged people to limit movement and to avoid crowds – to use “social distancing” to contain the spread of the virus.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has called on the public to practice social distancing and work from home. As a result, the streets of Jakarta have become unusually empty, affecting the income of street vendors.
As of Wednesday, the central government had confirmed 227 cases of the COVID-19 and 19 deaths nationwide, including 12 in Jakarta. The number continues to rise rapidly. As of Thursday morning, the Jakarta administration alone had reported 17 deaths and 208 cases.
Doris is a lower-income Jakartan whose livelihood has been affected by the outbreak, but he has yet to get any aid from the government. Informal street vendors, factory workers and the urban poor community are particularly vulnerable to the direct and indirect impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Luckily, Doris is a member of the Ancol Vendors Cooperative, and the cooperative itself is a member of the larger Urban Poor Linkage (JRMK) network and the Urban Poor Consortium (UPC).
Gugun Muhammad, a community organizer for the UPC, said the organization was preparing a proposal for the regional administration on the distribution of affordable food to communities whose incomes have been impacted by the social distancing policy.
“We hope that affordable staple foods can be distributed to the residents that do not have a KJP [Jakarta Smart Card]. Our goal is to help low-income residents get adequate supplies during periods like this,” he told the Post.
The UPC, with help from its partners in other cities, distributes free herbal drinks and hand sanitizer for the people within their network.
The Indonesia Disaster Awareness Movement (Graisena), an NGO based in Cirebon, West Java, provides aid for families whose breadwinners have experienced an interruption to their livelihoods as a result of coronavirus treatment or isolation.
The organization is ready to pay the families’ expenses for basic needs until the end of the pandemic.
Graisena chairman Agung Firmansyah explained that each of the families would receive Rp 20,000 (US$1.30) per day for each family member for a period of 14 days – the length of the quarantine – with a maximum allowance for 45 days of isolation.
“This initiative came as we feel concerned about the breadwinners who have tested positive for or are suspected of having COVID-19. If they are isolated, who will guarantee the daily needs of their families during their absence?” he said, adding that the funds came from the merchandise sales of Graisena’s community partners and other donations.
In another part of Jakarta, the House of Humanitarian Solidarity of Jakarta, an NGO led by former Jesuit priest and activist Sandyawan Sumardi is providing help as well.
Starting on March 23, the organization will provide free, healthy food and masks to underprivileged communities in Jakarta.
The food comes from donations from more affluent people, Sandyawan said. The organization will distribute the food in about five underprivileged areas to limit crowds at their headquarters in East Jakarta.
Sandyawan acknowledged that the organization was having difficulty finding masks. For the time being, it was making its own masks. “We hope that there will be one or two companies that will make donations,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Congress Alliance of Indonesian Labor Unions (KASBI) is teaching its members to maintain their health and stay vigilant during the coronavirus pandemic. “We are monitoring [our members] to ensure they do not experience termination of employment [PHK] and to ensure their rights are fulfilled,” said KASBI chairman Nining Elitos.
The Federation of Factory Workers has also urged the government to think about those who have to keep working in factories and sit close to each other despite the President’s social distancing suggestion. The federation asked the government to promise that workers would not lose their income if they had to stay home because of COVID-19.
The Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (SBMI) is now focusing on Indonesian workers in three places abroad, namely Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. The SBMI has delivered masks to help protect migrant workers from the virus.
“We have cooperated with local governments in Indonesia to send about 100,000 masks to our migrant workers overseas,” said SBMI chairman Hariyanto.
The organization is developing pilot projects to educate returning workers about financial management at the village level.
Calls for the government to impose a lockdown are mounting amid a spike in cases. A 2018 law requires the central government to provide for people’s basic needs if a lockdown is imposed.
Low-income households would be the worst-hit by a lockdown given that most have not been able to put money aside for emergencies, Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (INDEF) researcher Eko Listiyanto said.
The government must disburse direct and indirect assistance to informal workers by making use of existing data from the government-funded Family Hope Program (PKH), he said.
Doris has some emergency savings but only enough for a maximum of two weeks. “If [the shutdown] is more than two weeks, I must find other ways to fulfill my family’s needs,” he said.