Indonesia at a glance

Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population but is also home to the second largest Buddhist temple in the world – Borobudur in Central Java.

Region Southeast Asia

Population 240,271,522 (July 2009 est.)

Land Geography: Archipelago of 17,000 islands ,Climate: Tropical monsoon

People Religion : Muslim majority (86%), Christians (9%), Hindus (2%), unspecified (3%) Language: Bahasa Indonesia; 300 local languages Javanese (45%), Sundanese (18%)

Economy GDP per person (PPP): $3,900 (2009 estimate) GDP by sector: Agriculture: 14.4%, Industry: 48.1%, Services: 37.5%

Government Unitary republic with some, provincial autonomy; democratic system divides power between the president and parliament


Physical geography

Indonesia is a chain of 17,000 islands stretching almost 4000 kilometres from east to west. With a total area of 1,904,569 square kilometres it is larger than Queensland with an area of 1,730,648 square kilometres. Large islands like Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan and Sulawesi have rugged mountain ranges as well as fertile coastal plains. The highest point is Puncak Jaya 5,030 metres in Papua. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur frequently.


Most of Indonesia has a tropical monsoon climate. It is hot and mostly dry from April to October. From November to March it is slightly cooler,but very humid and torrential rain and storms are common. Along the coastal plains temperatures are higher (maximums around 32 to 34 degrees centigrade in the dry season) than in the mountain regions.


Most of Indonesia was covered by forests until the middle of the 20th century. In the past few decades huge amounts of forest have been lost to expanding agriculture, urban settlement, logging and fires. Indonesia has numerous endangered species of mammals and birds, including the Javanese rhinoceros, tigers and orangutans. Population pressure puts great demands on water resources and the cities suffer from serious air and water pollution.


The total population of Indonesia is 240,271,522 (July 2009 est.) of which around half live in urban areas. Java and Madura are the most densely populated areas and the largest cities are Jakarta (9.1million), Surabaya (2.7 million), Bandung (2.3 million) and Medan (2.0 million).


Culture and ethnicity

Indonesia’s people are extremely diverse in culture, language, ethnicity and religion. Around 300 distinct language and ethnic groups populate the archipelago. Most communities belong to the Malay family, but most people in Papua and the nearby islands are Melanesian, while there are also significant communities descended from immigrants including Chinese, Arabs, Indians and Europeans.

Religion and beliefs

Almost 90% of Indonesians are Sunni Muslims. There is a Christian minority in most provinces, and in a few regions such as East Nusa Tenggara, North Sumatra and North Sulawesi Christians are the majority. In Bali over 85% of people are Hindus and there is a small Hindu minority in Central and East Java.

About 2 million Indonesians, mostly people of Chinese descent, are Buddhists. Beside the world religions, traditional animist beliefs and practices remain important in many areas. Most Indonesians are very tolerant of different religions, and many people actually observe celebrations from more than one religious tradition.


General health and life expectancy have improved for most Indonesians during the past few decades. Life expectancy is 73 for women and 68 for men. Improvements in nutrition and availability of clean water have contributed to this.

Indonesia has successfully developed a system of community health centres in towns and villages allowing very widespread access to primary health care. Respiratory diseases including tuberculosis remain common, and malaria is still prevalent in some areas. The rate of HIV/AIDs is extremely low at 0.2% in 2007; however this figure is creeping up.

Food and Shelter

About 48% of Indonesians live in rural villages where they live by farming rice, corn and other crops as well as fishing, aquaculture and raising ducks and chickens. There are plantation crops including sugar, coffee, tea, coconuts and spices. Indonesian food is very varied and every region has its specialties.

Most meals are based on rice served with side dishes, mostly made from vegetables, with small amounts of fish, chicken, eggs or meat. Noodles and bean curd are also popular foods. As most Indonesians are Muslims, they do not eat pork. In eastern Indonesia, cassava is an important food. Village houses are usually simple one or two room bamboo and wooden buildings. For those who live in Indonesia’s fast-growing cities, housing styles vary widely, from new suburban housing developments and modern high-rise apartments to crowded kampung (urban villages) and makeshift shanty settlements.


Wealth and Poverty

Indonesia has undergone substantial economic development since the 1970s but the country remains relatively poor: around 17% live below the national poverty line. The distribution of wealth in Indonesia is also very uneven, with the poorest 10% sharing only 3% of the wealth, with the richest 10% sharing over 30%.

Education and work

Indonesian law states that all children must attend school for nine years. However in practice most children complete primary school but only 70% attend secondary school. Indonesia has a high literacy rate, with around 90% of adults able to read and write.

Around 42% of Indonesia’s labour force works in agriculture, 18% in manufacturing and the remainder in services. By international standards wages are low. Unemployment and underemployment are serious issues.

Industries and Products

Indonesia’s resource industries dominate the national economy. Major resources include oil and gas, coal, tin, rubber and forest products. Main agricultural products are rice, corn, peanuts, soybeans, coffee and sugar.

The manufacturing sector has grown quickly during the past 25 years. Textiles, clothing, footwear and food processing are the biggest manufacturing industries, but car assembly, papermaking and electronics are also significant.


Indonesia’s biggest exports are oil and gas, electrical appliances, textiles, and rubber. The main imports include cars, machinery, chemicals and some foods, including rice, wheat and live sheep and cattle. Japan, the US and Singapore, China, South Korea and Malaysia are Indonesia’s biggest trading partners.

Achievements and challenges

Indonesia’s economic development has created improvements in quality of life for many citizens, but widespread poverty persists, as the benefits have not been shared by all sections of society.

It continues to struggle to overcome the affects of the 1997 Asian financial crisis but has not felt the effects of the recent global financial crisis as severely as other countries in the region. Although the rate of population growth is slowing down, the size of Indonesia’s population is creating social, economic and environmental issues. Ethnic, religious and regional tensions exist in several parts of Indonesia.

The size and diversity of Indonesia means it is a challenge to balance national unity with regional autonomy. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami devastated Aceh province in northern Sumatra and terrorism has reduced income from tourism.

Links with Australia

Indonesia is one of Australia’s largest and most important neighbours. Contact between the two countries began hundreds of years ago, when seafarers from Makassar in eastern Indonesia traded with the Indigenous people of Australia’s north coast. Australia and Indonesia enjoy a wide ranging relationship encompassing political, security, commercial, cultural and people-to-people links. This partnership has been strengthened by Australia’s commitment to help Indonesia rebuild after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.Australia’s aid program to Indonesia is supporting poverty reduction and sustainable development in four key areas: improving economic management (eg by helping Indonesia to improve the way it manages its debt); strengthening the institutions and practices of democracy (eg by helping Indonesia to improve the way it’s legal system works); enhancing security and stability (eg by helping Indonesia to strengthen its counter-terrorism capacity); and increasing the accessibility and quality of basic social services (eg by helping Indonesia improve the quality of its primary school education).

The latest Census in 2006 recorded 50,970 Indonesian-born persons in Australia..New South Wales had the largest number with 21,890 followed by Victoria (12,600), Western Australia (7,880) and Queensland (5310).

Main sources: