Thu, 28 Aug 2003

RI's population control worries Fornos

Rita A. Widiadana The Jakarta Post, Miami, Florida In the late l980s, Werner Fornos, president of the Washington- based Population Institute, visited Indonesia and named the country one of the most successful nations in controlling population.

"The award was presented to former president Soeharto," Fornos recalled. Along with members of the Institute's board of directors, donors and other participants, Fornos traveled to some remote villages on the islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali and Kalimantan.

"I was impressed by the way Indonesia handled its family planning programs and PKK program, which was the country's most innovative," he said.

The family welfare movement (PKK) allowed both urban and rural women in each community to participate in various activities including family planning programs, sanitation and health care, religion, social and small-scale economic enterprises.

"Empowering women is one of the best ways to curb the population boom in any country," Fornos said.

During the Soeharto era, Indonesia had a high-profile population program with a ministerial level institution handling it. But over the last few years, Indonesia has been undergoing significant changes, politically, economically and socially.

After the fall of Soeharto's regime in l998, the Indonesian government downgraded the office of the state minister for population to a government agency. The family planning program, locally known as Keluarga Berencana (KB) has now different paradigm from government-designed program to a more community- based program.

"With more than 220 million inhabitants, Indonesia is now the world's fifth most populous country burdened with various problems including a high rate of unemployment, poverty and the possible threat of social disintegration," Fornos said.

He advised that the Indonesian government in cooperation with NGOs and the community pay serious attention to the country's overpopulation problem. "We realize that the Indonesian government is now focusing more on economic and political matters," Fornos said.

Now, he argued, the world is in doubt whether the debt-ridden Indonesia has the capability to solve its population problems along with their consequences.

Citing an example, Jakarta has around 11 million people. Within the next 10 years, Jakarta will become one of the 10 most populous megacities in the world along with Dhaka, Beijing and Bombay. The pressing problems would be lack of public housing, unemployment, high crime rates and poor environment.

Overpopulation, as occurs mostly in developing countries such as Indonesia, is spurred by poverty, lack of knowledge and accessibility to basic needs including health care and education.

"The developing and poor countries cannot tackle this problem alone. The industrialized countries, the richest countries especially, have to lend a hand. Yet, they lack commitment to eradicating poverty," he said.

"There is a tendency to think that if everything is OK for them, the rest of the world is OK too," he said. The industrialized world is presently cuddling in comfort.

"The biggest problem facing us today is how could we wake up the industrialized world to understand the suffering of the half of the world's population living on less than US$2 a day."

Born in Leipzig, Germany in November l933, Fornos received the prestigious 2003 United Nations Population Award (UNFPA) in May for his outstanding contribution to increasing the awareness of people around the world of population problems.

A former Maryland state legislator, Fornos has held a number of administrative posts in the state and federal governments of America. He has been addressing and lecturing on major population issues worldwide. Author of the book Gaining People Losing Ground: A Blueprint for Stabilizing World Population, Fornos was declared by the respected Earth Times magazine one of the world's 50 distinguished people in the last decade in promoting sustainable development. Since l982, Fornos has been the president of the Population Institute.

The Population Institute was established in l969 by the United Methodist Church. But it is no longer affiliated to the Church. It is now an international organization with an international board of directors. The institute, which has 172 member countries, is concerned not only with the United States' population problem, but also the world's.

"Our biggest impact is in educating lawmakers all over the world to have a greater commitment to solving population problems within their own countries and trying to find them help to do so," he said.

On the best population control programs, Fornos said, "So far, there is no ideal model in population programs in the world. Each country must designs programs specific to its characteristics, culture and religion."

Thailand has done extremely good programs involving the community without interference of its government. It has managed to reduce the fertility rate by 67 percent over the last 20 years through education and information campaigns.

Indonesia also has an excellent population program. Columbia in South America, North Africa, Mexico, Costa Rica, including Cuba are among the success stories in dealing with population problems.

"They have a strong political commitment to solving population problems, motivation for smaller family sizes and the availability of the means to control one's fertility," he confirmed.