Roads for Communities

Yulia Indri Sari and Erman Rahman / THE JAKARTA POST

Jakarta

Trans-Papua roads connecting Wamena-Habema-Kenyam-Mumugu. Source: Viva.co.id

The government has prioritized infrastructure development in Papua and West Papua provinces, particularly to improve road connectivity. It has been argued that connectivity brings numerous potential livelihood opportunities to indigenous Papuans and improves access to other basic services and social interaction.

The Asia Foundation, in partnership with the Indonesian institute of Sciences (LIPI), recently conducted a rapid assessment of two road routes between Sorong and Manokwari in West Papua, and between Jayapura and Wamena in Papua to measure implications of road construction for the Papuans well-being.

Most national and trans-Papua roadshave been built since the New Order Era. But according to drivers and regular road users interviewed, road conditions have significantly improved since 2014. Access to Bintuni from Manokwari; to Sausapor from Sorong in West Papua; and to Elelifrom Abenaho in Papua, for instance, have undergone continuous improvements in the last four years, including through road soil compaction, construction of bridges and paving with asphalt.

Drivers of Hilux taxis (four-wheel-drive cars) no longer worry about getting stuck over night when it rains as unpaved dirt roads (the “red roads”) have been compacted. In other road sections, even smaller cars have replaced Hilux – reflecting relatively good pavement. Even ojek (motorcycletaxis) and regular modes of public transportation like angkot (minivans) and Damri government buses are operating – which to Papuans are the ultimate signs of better roads.

These public transportation optionsreduce their travel time and costs. In Pelebaga, Jayawijaya regency,mama (women) used to carry one noken (Papuan Basket) of farm produce on foot for one to two hours to get to the market and another four to five hours on their way back uphill. After the upgrading of the Wamena-Habema road segment, ojek and taxis became available to them. Now, the women can hire taxis at a cost of Rp 20,000 (US$1.30), with a travel time of only 15 to 30 minutes, and double their sales to two noken full of produce, increasing profits by Rp50,000 to Rp 100,000.

Mama living in coastal and-relatively urbanized areas are more able to benefit from this new opportunity.They have started expanding the market for their agricultural produce to farther and larger urban centers such as Sorong, Jayapura and Manokwari. This has increased their incomes by Rp. 150,000 to Rp. 300,000 per week.

However, most of them spend their additional income on consumable goods. Improved connectivity has significantly increased the accessibility of Papuans to goodssuch as rice, soap, flavor enhancers such as monosodium glutamate, instant noodles, cigarettes, salt, “colored” drinks and various snacks, as well as construction materials.

New merchants, mostly migrants, are the ones more ready to seize the opportunity and bring these goods to the communities. Some villagers also collectively rent cars to purchase consumable goods and construction materials at lower prices in the nearest urban centers. The implication is a more significant need for cash to buy all these goods.

Increased connectivity and household demand for cash – complemented by increased village budgets (over Rp 1 billion per village on average) that have been used mostly for housing – have increased demand for construction materials, particularly wood.And here lies the problem: men respond to the situation by cutting down more trees and selling them mostly to outsider log traders who finance them. They have also become more dependent on government social assistance and projects.

Lack of support for other types of local economic development has limited the alternative livelihoods available to them, other than utilizing natural resources. Better road connectivity, understandably, also leads to utilization of land along the roads for new villages and agricultural land. Hence, more trees are being, or will be, cut down.


Trans-Papua roads connecting Wamena-Habema-Kenyam-Mumugu. Source: Viva.co.id

Fortunately,such environmental degradation has not been amplified by significantly increased large private investment. Hence, only existing extractive industries already operating in the two provinces have mostly become better off (and degraded the environment) by utilizing the improved connectivity.

Socially,indigenous Papuans enjoy improved connectivity as families meet more often. But they are also wary of the impact of roads on the influx of migrants. While they consider migrants an integral part of their daily lives – selling them basic needs, providing cheaper and faster modes of transportation, buying the produce and wood they sell and providing skilled labor for construction work – Papuans have also expressed concern over the migrants greater ability to seize the economic opportunities presented by connectivity improvements.

In some highland areas, this has led to restrictions on migrant sellers and the operating hours of migrant ojek drivers.

However, indigenous Papuans speak profoundly on the importance of the roads to access health,education and population administration services, provided mainly in the urban centers.

Our rapid assessment also found positive consequences of improved connectivity inthe quality of health services.

In Wamena, this has given local health clinic staff a better sense of security, hence encouraging longer service hours. However, in education the opposite has happened; teachers have a perverse incentive to leave schools to move to the urban centers instead.

The rapid assessment suggests there is room to reconsider infrastructure development strategies in Papua and West Papua.

The most important infrastructure in the two provinces is the roads connecting where indigenous Papuans live in the villages with the municipality and regency capitals where basic services are mainly provided.

This should be complemented by improving basic services. Including support to improve micro-sale agriculture that would gradually increase the production level from subsistence to a level that can improve food (and nutrition) security at the local levels – a strategy to support the visions of the two provinces to promote sustainable development, as discussed at the international conference on biodiversity, creative economy and ecotourism in Manokwari on Oct. 7 to 10.

The mainstream approach of improving inter-regency and inter-province connectivity, aiming for increased large private investment, does not seem suitable to these two provinces.

With current roads in better shape, gradual improvement of human development indicators, rather than economic growth, should now be the main development target in Papua and West Papua. As one Papuan warned, “we need infrastructure for communities, not commodities”.

This article is originally published on The Jakarta Post, written by Yulia Indri Sari, who has completed her doctoral research on community driven development in Papua for the Australian National University in Canberra and Erman Rahman who holds a Master’s degree in transportation and is senior director for programs at The Asia Foundation. Please contact us should you wish to share your opinion.

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