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Writers fest highlights poverty and human rights UBUD - Freedom and human rights are common themes which persist across international literary festivals around the world. The third annual Ubud Writers and Readers festival which closed last week was no exception. The five-day event featured workshops, seminars and panel discussions on topics ranging from the effects of globalization to understanding of Islam in the modern world.

The Government of Indonesia with support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) took the opportunity presented by this gathering to convene panel discussions on poverty reduction and the role of human development in Indonesia's national development agenda.

The festival provided a platform for artists, academia, media and other intellectuals to engage the Government of Indonesia in discussions related to the nation's progress towards achieving the targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Deputy Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare, Sudjana Royat, spoke alongside other panel members included internationally acclaimed writer Putu Wijaya, influential painter Made Wianta, festival director Janet De Neef, as well as prominent media writers and development specialists.

Central to the discussion was recognition of the need to measure progress not only against quantifiable statistical indicators, but also against whether the lives of poor communities have genuinely been improved. Putu Wijaya would refer to this principal as "placing a human face on development. "

Historically, development in Indonesia has been economically based, with an emphasis on growth and other macro indicators. In rural areas this has usually entailed investment in the exploitation of the nation's abundant natural resources. While this activity has certainly benefited local communities providing much needed employment opportunities, the failure to diversify local economies and fully develop basic social services such as education and healthcare has lead to cycles of boom and bust, the most pronounced of which was the pandemic regression brought about by the Asian financial crisis.

Human development represents an alternative approach. It focuses on growth which is more sustainable, simultaneously raising living standards and reducing citizen's overall vulnerability to economic, social and environmental shocks. Human Development enhances freedom of choice by enlarging human capabilities and opportunities. It empowers the people to take direct actions which improve their lives.

Deputy Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Sudjana stressed the need for greater engagement at the grass roots level directly empowering local communities to play a more integral role in the planning, execution and management of local development initiatives. The government intends to pursue this agenda through the setting up of local Community Trust Funds which will provide greater ownership, transparency and accountability for decisions which directly impact the poor.

A key to comprehending the role which human development plays in Indonesia's ongoing development agenda rests in understanding its relation to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). As one of the 189 nations to adopt the Millennium Declaration in September of 2000, Indonesia continues to strive for the 2015 attainment of targets set in accordance with the MDGs.

The MDGs represent aspects of human development which are specifically relevant to progress made in improving the conditions of the poorest members of society. They are strongly associated with addressing the deprivation side of human development which is human poverty. This concept of human poverty is multi-dimensional.

It goes beyond income poverty to include deprivations in areas related to hunger and nutrition, education, gender equality, health (including infant and maternal mortality as well as disease control) and environmental degradation. The MDGs use a human rights based approach to reach the human development objectives which affect those most in need of advancement.

While the MDGs are essentially human development goals, the pursuit of human development is not limited only to the achievement of MDGs. Human development extends beyond the MDGs to include critical aspects in social development such as political and civil liberties and participation in community life.

The successful 2004 elections represent a key achievement in terms of Human Development. Media representatives in the panel discussion expressed concern that the freedoms provided by Indonesia's democratic advancement should not be taken for granted.

Citing recent developments in Thailand, Michael Vatikiotis highlighted the importance of national leadership which is responsible, transparent and accountable. Given the high priority which Asian cultures place on these values, any compromise could prove divisive, polarizing society and leading to restrictive measures including the curtailment of freedom in favor of public order. Development which is fair and equitable represents a fundamental aspect of good governance and is essential to continuing democratic freedom and reform.

Support for human development will require the participation of stakeholders from all levels of society. This year's Ubud Writers and Readers Festival served as an excellent opportunity for the Government of Indonesia to engage stakeholders from the national and international literary and artistic communities, academia and media. With continuing support from these groups as well as civil society, the private sector and the donor community, the Government of Indonesia will continue to advance its agenda of making the nation a more democratic and egalitarian society.

Richard Aitken

The writer is consultant, MDGs Support Unit, United Nations Development Program.



Posted in Culture @ 14 October 2006 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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