Indonesia sends emergency aid after famine kills 6 people in its eastern Papua region

The drought in Papua has left people in the regency without access to clean water, killing six people, including a baby, after suffering from starvation, diarrhoea and dehydration.
Image used for representation purpose only.
Image used for representation purpose only.

JAYAPURA: Indonesia is sending emergency humanitarian assistance to the country's eastern Papua province suffering from a drought that killed at least six people and left thousands facing hunger in the past two months, officials said on Tuesday.

The Puncak Regency in Central Papua Province was hit the hardest.

The National Disaster Management Agency’s spokesperson said the drought has also left people in the regency without access to clean water, killing six people, including a baby, after suffering from starvation, diarrhoea and dehydration.

He said El Niño has triggered drought and extreme cold weather causing crop failures and leaving the regency's villagers scrambling to find food.

He added that another 7,500 people in Papua are facing hunger as a result of the food shortage.

“The disaster was triggered by extreme weather,” said the Regent of Puncak Willem Wandik. “The air temperature is very cold and there has been no rain since May," which has negatively affected the province's harvest. Its main crops are corn, sweet potato, cassava, taro and sago.

The head of the agency, Suharyanto, blamed the extreme weather on climate change during a discussion forum in Jakarta on Monday, saying that El Nino-induced drought has become a serious concern for people in Central Papua province.

Suharyanto, who goes by a single name, along with other officials flying much-needed aid — food, clothes, blankets and medical supplies — to the drought-struck province, accessible only by helicopters and motorbikes.

El Niño, expected to peak between August and September, would not affect all of Indonesia, said Dwikorita Karnawati, the head of the National Meteorological Climatological and Geophysical Agency.

“There’s a possibility of one region facing drought while a neighbouring area suffers floods or other hydrometeorological disasters,” she said.

President Joko Widodo instructed the country's military to deliver food aid to the hilly Puncak regency, a stronghold for separatists who have battled Indonesian rule in the impoverished region since the early 1960s.

“Plants do not grow during the cold spell there, and food aid has also been hampered by security problems where planes are afraid to land,” Widodo told reporters on Monday.

Rebel attacks have spiked in recent years, with dozens killed, displacing thousands of people in Papua. The province used to be a Dutch colony and is ethnically and culturally distinct from much of Indonesia. Conflicts between indigenous Papuans and Indonesian security forces are common.

An El Nino is a natural, temporary and occasional warming of part of the Pacific that shifts global weather patterns, and climate change is making them stronger.

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