• Written by Aulia Rahman
    24 September 2013

The word Nusantara, a Sanskrit, means island within, within ocean, among vast natural resources, and potentiality. Including rich of cultural and customs diversities.

From land to sea, from highland to lowland, Indonesia is a unique place where landscape and natural resources vary considerably. Its development needs are equally complex. Photos by Aulia Rahman.

Indonesia is a territory of eight million square km, more than 75% of which is open ocean. The remainder is archipelagic consisting of over 17,000 large and small islands. Nearly 6,000 are inhabited, the rest are empty, their untapped potential waiting to be discovered. Stretching 5,150km from East to West across three time zones (GMT +9 for East, GMT +8 for Central, GMT +7 for West), it’s nearly as wide as the United States. It is inhabited by more than 1,100 different tribes speaking 546 different languages and dialects.

Indonesia also has a nickname, “Nusantara”, derived from the words “Nusa” or islands and “Antara”, among/between, in the ancient Javanese language of Kawi. For geographers, Indonesia is comprised of four smaller archipelagic regions: Sundaland Region (Sumatra, Java, Borneo, and Sulawesi/Celebes), Lesser Sunda (from Bali to East Timor), Banda Region (the area in and around Moluccas) and Sahul Region (the area of Papua). Of all the thousands of islands in Nusantara, Java Island is the most densely populated. Almost 136 million citizens inhabiting 128,000 square km make give it one of the highest population densities in the world. 

History records that Nusantara was the most favoured intersection for sailors and traders between the continent of Asia and Australia and the Pacific and Indian Oceans and the rest of the world. Products like timber and spices (pepper, vanilla, coffee, nutmeg, salt, sugar, clove, cinnamon, etc.) are grown there. Nusantara was also of great interest to scientists, including many big names. The naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace drew his Wallace Line across it, paleontologists Eugene Dubois and Gustav Heinrich Ralph von Koenigswald discovered and researched Pithecanthropus erectus (later known as Homo erectus) there and scuba diving pioneer Jacques Cousteau said visiting Indonesia is like visiting 20 different countries at once.

The word Nusantara, a Sanskrit, means island within, within ocean, among vast natural resources, and potentiality. Including rich of cultural and customs diversities.

The word Nusantara, an ancient Kawi name for Indonesia, means among islands. The country has vast natural resources and uninhabited and untapped wildernesses as well as great cultural diversity. Above: Wayag Landscape, Raja Ampat, West Papua. Photo by Aulia Rahman.

Cousteau was amazed, and with good reason. Indonesia has the second longest coast line after Canada. Its underwater scenery provides big opportunities for marine-based tourism as well as fishing industries. According to the Reefcheck Foundation database, approximately 2,050 reef fish species live in Indonesian waters – around 39% of the world total. The list continues to grow year by year as researchers discover more species. Corals are also abundant and 750 species out of the global total of 850 can be found there. 

But while these breathtaking natural resources provide so many opportunities if efficiently managed, information about them is very hard to access. Research findings and data about what exists on the ground end up in publications that are not publicly accessible. Often research and statistics relating to development are not taken seriously. For a country like Indonesia with 230 million citizens and complex development needs, collecting relevant data is both essential and very difficult. Up to now, progress has been slow. Only a really small amount of data for development purposes is available. There are hundreds or even thousands of questions relating to prioritising development needs in Indonesia that still remained unanswered. For example, how much tuna is exported from Indonesia to country X? How much rice has been produced per year for the last ten years? How much oil is consumed by each province? What is the level of literacy in Papua? How much has the population grown in the last decade? How many six to twelve year olds access formal education?

Answers to these questions could shape future development activities and the data issue needs to be fixed sooner rather than later. Big and important decisions made by governments should rely on credible statistics if they are to be effective. National and provincial budget planning can then focus on areas of priority. 

Technology, especially in communication and information sector, has been growing very advance. The uses now can be very useful not only for the communication itself, but also for the development sector. This is an example how collecting the data for fishery area is very useful. The collected data later on can be used as baseline to create numerous public policy.

Technology, especially in the communication and information sectors but also areas such as fishery, has been growing very advanced. The data produced could be extremely useful for the development sector and could be applied as a baseline to create numerous public policies. Above: entering the day’s catch into an integrated database. Photo by Aulia Rahman.

In 2008, Indonesia introduced Law No. 14 on Open Data for the Public which led to the formation in 2011 of a task force under the Secretary of State called Open Government Indonesia. Consisting of individuals from relevant ministries and NGOs, this task force was set up to enhance and widen transparency in Indonesia, improve the efficiency of development programmes, fight corruption and drive public policy reform based on publicly accessible information.

When I’ve had the opportunity to participate in international cooperation events and workshops on open data, I’ve always been struck by how the discussion gets stuck on the practicalities of how different parties should share their data. Who should start first, who should host the secretariate, where should the data be hosted, how the rights and responsibilties should be managed – all  fairly simple matters that get very complicated when politics and specific interests come in to play. Indonesia maybe not a good example, but we have started at least to be open about the issues – better late than never. The next important step is to put away prejudices and focus on realising solutions. Could it happen here?

Aulia Rahman is currently working as a contractor for Akvo in Indonesia. He provides support to our partners locally while also helping us to develop new partnerships in the region.

Updated by Mark Charmer on 26 September. Open Government Indonesia link – https://opengovindonesia.org – not working right now, so removed for time being. Also added this to a new blog category, called “Intelligent Development”.