Date: Mon, 28 Sep 1998 13:16:11 -0400 (EDT)
Half of Indonesia short of food
The Straits Times, 22 sep 1998
The Food Minister added that food shortages in 53 of 150 regencies are at critical levels. Distribution to some islands have also been cut off
JAKARTA -- Indonesia yesterday said that half of the country has been hit by food shortages.
Food Minister A. M. Saefuddin told Parliament that 150 out of 308 regencies were facing a food shortfall, and 53 of the 150 were facing a severe shortage.
The shortfalls were in 25 of Indonesia's 27 provinces.
Mr Saefuddin said the government was taking several steps to combat the problem, including increasing rice imports. Outside the Parliament building, Indonesians protesting against high prices of essentials extorted motorists and disrupted traffic.
No confrontation with security officers was reported during the protest which lasted for about five hours, and parliamentary hearings were not disrupted. Food prices have shot up in Indonesia over the past year due to a severe drought, a crippling economic crisis that sparked a collapse in the rupiah, and alleged hoarding and smuggling of food.
Rice now costs three times its price a year ago. The food situation has been worsened by a fracturing of the distribution network due to the unrest in Indonesia in recent months. The official Antara news agency said yesterday that some 62,000 islanders off Sumatra face starvation if ferry links between the island and the mainland are not restored soon.
Antara says links between the island of Simeulue and the province of Aceh have been cut since Sept 15.
"Ferry services serving the route are damaged, causing the supply of basic commodities to stop a few days ago," Mr Raswan Mariadi, a Simeulue government official, was quoted as saying.
He said Simeulue needed 6,200 tonnes of rice a month but supply had dwindled drastically and could last only two or three more days. Meanwhile, billions of rupiah's worth of voluntary contributions, raised by the public after an appeal by the administration of former President Suharto, will be used to buy essential commodities for the poor.
The Finance Ministry said on Friday that the donations, in the form of money, gold and foreign exchange, will be returned to provincial administrations to provide basic needs for those living under poverty lines. The Indonesian Observer on Friday said that until last month, the Ministry had channelled more than 17.5 billion rupiah (S$3.5 million) in both local and foreign currency through regional branches of Bank Indonesia, the central bank.
In a related report, Cooperatives and Small Enterprises Minister Adi Sasono said last Friday that Central Java is the poorest province, with 33 per cent of its people living below the poverty level. -- Reuters