INDONESIA Archbishop highlights folk wisdom to prevent calamity

UCAN News - An archbishop in Papua, Indonesia's easternmost province, says local people should learn from folk wisdom to avert natural disasters.

Sacred Heart Archbishop Nicolaus Adi Saputra of Merauke has suggested people return to the practice of building wambad, mounds on which sago trees and other crops can be planted, to protect against rising tides.

The archbishop made these comments in the wake of tidal flooding in early January that hit five of the 16 Catholic villages in Wan subdistrict, part of Merauke district.

Villages were inundated with up to one meter of seawater in the worst flooding in recent years. The floodwaters, which lasted for days, destroyed banana, cassava, coconut and other crops, and 2,514 villagers now face a food crisis, according to reports.

"The problem is that the people no longer build wambad," as they did in the past, said the prelate, who served as a priest in the area for six years.

Archbishop Saputra recalled that wambad allowed seawater to drain from the land quickly, thus helping to preserve crops. He also emphasized the importance of stocking rice in warehouses to prevent such food crises.

Father Silvester Tokio of St. Isodorus Church in Wan said that after learning about the situation, he immediately called the district head. "He asked me to make a report on the situation."

The district administration later issued a letter asking all governmental units as well as individuals to aid victims by distributing food through the district's social and human development service.

Daniel Pauta, who heads this service, reports his office has received three tons of rice, 163 boxes of instant noodles, medicine and used clothes, as well as 53.4 million rupiah (about US$4,500). "But half of this money will be used to help earthquake survivors in Manokwari," he said.

An earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2 on the Richter scale struck the city in West Papua on Jan. 4, killing a child, injuring more than 40 people and destroying hundreds of buildings.

In Merauke, Yos Sudarso Senior High School did its bit to aid the Wan villagers facing a food crisis by raising 700,000 rupiah. Principal Petrus Ambarura said teachers and students of the Catholic school donated the money as "an expression of our concern." He added that money was handed to the district's social service on Feb. 5.