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Indonesia: Alarming situation in Irian Jaya

04-12-1997 News Release 97/48

Initial reports from the joint ICRC/Indonesian Red Cross team currently on a fact-finding mission in Irian Jaya are giving cause for serious concern. The team, based in Timika, has been flying daily helicopter shuttles since 19 November to the villages hardest hit by the drought affecting the whole region.

Last week, the six experts on the team visited three particularly remote localities in the Mimika district, situated in a conflict area where the Free Papua Movement (or OPM - Organisasi Papua Merdeka ) has often made its presence felt. They found the nutritional and health status of the population of this high-plateau region in central Irian Jaya to be alarming. Preliminary surveys showed that young children were the primary victims of malnutrition. In Alama and Nggin, two of the villages visited, the team noted that more than 55% of children aged between one and five were suffering from serious malnutrition. The villagers reported that the yam crops, one of the main sources of food, had been destroyed from the combined impact of drought and night-time frost. The next harvest is not due for six or nine months. For the time being, the inhabitants of the two villages have made a start on the survival rations supplied to them by the Indonesian army, which has bases in the vicinity.

On the medical side, anaemia, malaria and respiratory diseases are widespread, and the experts observed that mortality was on the rise. For the time being, the team could do little more than distribute selective emergency aid in the form of medicines and rice for logistic reasons. The Indonesian Ministry of Health has announced its intention of sending specialists to the scene to implement malaria control measures. This week the team is continuing its survey in the Kora and Wusak valleys, east of Timika.

On 24 November the ICRC launched a provisional appeal for funds, with a target of two million Swiss francs, to help people at risk in Irian Jaya.