Aid dispatched after hunger-related deaths in Papua

Aid dispatched after hunger-related deaths in Papua


JAKARTA, 18 September 2009 (IRIN) - The Indonesian government said it will send a team to a poor district in eastern Papua Province after a rights group reported deaths from hunger and associated diseases there.

Swadiatma, an adviser to the Coordinating Ministry for People's Welfare, said the team of officials would be dispatched this week to the isolated district of Yahukimo in Papua to investigate reports of the deaths, and assess the long-term needs of the population.

"Our team will see for ourselves the situation on the ground, so we can take measures to achieve sustainable food security," Swadiatma, who goes by one name, told IRIN. He said Minister Aburizal Bakrie had asked the provincial government to deliver food supplies such as rice, noodles and sugar to the affected areas.

"Transporting them is not an easy task, given the rugged terrain, and they have to use a helicopter or a small plane," he added.

Yahukimo District chief Ones Pahabol said food shortages had hit 25 areas in the district, and that 80 percent of Yahukimo's population lived in remote highland areas, and their staple food was sweet potato.

Yomes Bomse, chairman of the People's Health Council, a community-based body in Yahukimo, set up by the Health Ministry, said 49 people had died in the past three months. "So far those affected have yet to receive adequate health care," he said.

The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) NGO on 16 September said it had received information from local NGOs and civil society groups that 113 villagers had died in Yahukimo since January due to hunger and associated diseases after crop failures.

Harvest failure

"The harvest failure this year caused by climate change resulted in deaths," the AHRC said in a statement. "Yahukimo is remote and isolated. Daily food sources come from home grown produce such as sweet potato or potato. If villagers fail to harvest enough produce to support their families, they immediately face starvation," it said.

The AHRC also accused the Indonesian government of neglect and said the lack of roads or public infrastructure aggravated food insecurity.

The recent food shortage is not the first to hit Yahukimo. In 2005, local media reported that 55 people died of starvation due to harvest failure, prompting the central government to send officials to the region.

Twelve food storage facilities were built in the district in 2006 to help those who had suffered from crop failure, but AHRC said this was ineffective, because the warehouses were not suitable for storing sweet potatoes.

Swadiatma denied that the storage facilities had failed to help villagers, saying that food shortages this time had hit areas where such facilities had not been built.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Aid Policy, (IRIN) Food Security