In the past decade, the combined population of Papua and West Papua has grown 64 percent, making them the provinces with the fastest population growth in Indonesia.
The preliminary report of the nation's 2010 census reveals that Papua and West Papua's populations now stand at around 2.9 million and 761,000, respectively, or about 3.6 million people combined. The figure jumped from 2.2 million in 2000, when the two provinces were still one province before the government declared the western part a separate province, now called West Papua, in 2003.
Demographic experts told The Jakarta Post on Saturday that such high growth was due to massive migration and high birth rates in West Papua and Papua, the latter of which is Indonesia's largest province by area.
"In 2007, the fertility rate on the island was 2.9 children per woman, higher than the national average of 2.3 children per woman," University of Indonesia Demographic Institute director Sonny Harry Harmadi said.
Sonny added that increased migration into Papua had also contributed to rapid population growth in the region.
"In the case of Papua, this is actually a good sign as the population density there is still low and migration will bring knowledge spillover to local residents," Sonny said, adding that this would promote and increase productivity in the region.
"Overall, the country's population distribution is highly uneven, with Java still accounting for around 57 percent of the total population. Java's net migration is negative because it is overpopulated," Sonny said.
The 2010 census results showed that there were more than 136 millions people in Java alone, with West Java province topping the list with a population of 43 million, making it the most densely populated province in the country.
West Java's population growth rate remains the highest among all provinces in Java. At 20 percent, it is much higher than the growth rate of Central Java (3 percent), East Java (7 percent) and Yogyakarta (12 percent).
Sonny said West Java was choking under the weight of its people because it served as an outlier within which Greater Jakarta's population overflows were contained.
"The rapid migration flow to West Java will lead to the speeding-up of the conversion of farmland into other uses. We know that the soil there is fertile, therefore making it one of provinces of importance to national food security," he added.
Sonny said the population explosion in West Java, if unchecked, would pose a threat to the country's food security, adding that the province was the country's food bowl.
He added underdeveloped islands had to experience the positive impact of migration such as knowledge spillover, especially from Java.
University of Indonesia demographer Mayling Oey-Gardiner told the Post that many migrants seemed to have leveraged the momentum of regional autonomy, coming to Papua for economic reasons.
"Migrants are drawn to Papua because of money. Papua's low population, the richness of its natural resources and mild competition are among the pull factors of migration to the region," she said. (tsy)