Indonesia has a unique geography, a hidden wealth of resources, a young and vibrant population, and an explosive economy.The closer you look the more remarkable this country appears.
In 1815, Indonesia witnessed the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history. Mount Tambora burst with such force that the explosion could be heard over a distance of 1,500 miles. So severe was the eruption it contributed to anomalies in weather systems throughout the Northern Hemisphere and the result was the worst global famine of the 19th century.
Almost 200 years later, Mount Tambora is still active.
One might presume that, as a result, the Indonesian people live in a state of anxiety, but this would be a failure to consider the complex geography and geology of the country and the resilience of the people in overcoming hardships and finding opportunity in adversity.
Stability and Growth
Indonesia is sometimes described as a bridge between the Asian and Australian continent. As an archipelago of over 17,500 islands, Indonesia is the largest of its kind in the world, not just in area but also in population (with 240 million people, it is the fourth largest country in the world). The archipelagic nature presents logistical challenges of its own but consider also that Indonesia sits near the edges of three different tectonic plates; the result is more earthquake activity than almost any other place on earth. And seismic activity of this kind also means increased volcanic activity. Mount Tambora is, in fact, just one of over 150 active volcanoes in the region.
With these kinds of upheavals and complications it is nothing short of astonishing to observe that Indonesia is currently one of the most stable political and economic regions in existence. It is almost as if the above challenges have created a stoicism within the people that has allowed them to prosper where other civilisations might have crumbled. It may also have something to do with the benefits that have resulted from these environmental conditions. Indonesia is rich with natural resources, including petroleum, natural gas, coal and a variety of valuable metals. In addition, the geological conditions have created an abundance of geothermal energy that is largely untapped.
Perhaps most significantly, the volcanic ash from historic eruptions has created land that is incredibly fruitful. It is the high production levels, made possible by the fertile soil that has allowed the largest of the Indonesian islands to sustain dense populations.
The natural elements are not the only storms that Indonesia has had to weather; political upheaval and endemic corruption are a feature of Indonesia’s modern history. But in the same way in which Indonesia has withstood environmental difficulties and found strength as a result, the present day government has adapted with startling alacrity.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has led the country’s development as a democratic nation since 2004 and has instituted significant reforms across the complete spectrum of politics, social care and cultural heritage that are moving the country forward at a rate that has seen many point to Indonesia as a definitive example of how developing nations can progress.
Yet, without doubt, the most astonishing feature is found within the economy. To call it growth would fail to capture just how remarkable Indonesia’s progress has been.
Of all the countries affected by the Asian financial crisis, Indonesia was the most severely affected. The economy shrunk by around 13% and turning this calamity around took time. However – helped in part by the fact that the economy grew by more than 7% for most of the previous ten years – Indonesia has made a strong return to form; national economic growth has averaged 6% for the last five years and, even in 2009 when much of the world was languishing in recession, economic growth still hit 4.5%.
Indonesia now has the largest economy in South-East Asia and with growth expected to remain around 7% for many years, to some, Indonesia could well be the seventh largest economy in the world as early as 2025.
Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, unique and challenging geography, political struggles and financial crises; Indonesia has overcome every difficulty, and even turned some of them to its advantage. In the early 19th century, an Indonesian volcano shook the globe. Today, with its heady mix of economic growth, democratic reforms and creative development, Indonesia is once again attracting the attention of the rest of the world.