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    Indonesia Travel Journal: Improving Infrastructure One Trillion at a Time.

    There is a report in the Jakarta Post this morning announcing that the city will begin construction on a sewage system next year. The first phase of the project will take almost 10 years and only serve about 10 percent of the city, but it's a start. In 20 years, a projected expansion plan will reach a quarter of the population.

    I was happy to see the article because over the weekend I was discussing this very issue with a friend as we strode by one of the many canals in Jakarta. The canals never smell very good but on this particular day it was so overpowering I had to pinch my nose to stop myself from gagging. The rivers and canals in and around the city could be a great source of beauty. For now, they are festering streams of garbage and human waste.

    I try not to look into the water as I walk by. An assault on one of my senses is manageable but an assault on two brings me into the dangerous I-think-I-might-vomit zone. Sometimes, as I'm walking to catch my angkot to work, I notice men are fishing the canals. I seriously, seriously hope that it is only for recreation but I suspect that there are young bellies to fill with any available food.

    So, I am heartened by the fact that the city planners understand they have an issue and are taking steps to remedy it. They need a loan of 3.8 trillion rupiahs to get started (US$412.5 million). Compared to the US military budget, it's a pittance but over here--where the annual per capita income in 2008 was about $3,900--it is an obscene amount of money.

    Jakarta is, like many cities in developing nations, rife with contradictions. On my way to work today, I'll probably stop at my local, five-story, air-conditioned shopping mall. I might get Starbucks, if I feel like splurging. If I don't, there are probably ten or twelve other cafes where I can spend less for my coffee. I might get lunch or do some shopping. I can find almost anything I want or need at the mall (which I have very mixed feelings about, believe me). But on my walk home from work tonight, I'll stroll along a poo canal, trying not to breathe too deeply.



    This is an excellent example about how we can use soft power to accomplish more with less money than using military power that so many on the right would prefer we use. Indonesia is a majority Muslim nation with (I think) a population that could easily become our fast friends if we invest in their infrastructure in a non-intrusive manner. Heck, we might even be greeted as liberators…

    Yeah, except I neglected to mention that the loan is from Japan. Oops.

    However, President Obama is scheduled to visit Indonesia later this month, so who knows what kind of partnerships could form. I think you're absolutely right about the power of soft money. You always catch more flies with honey!

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