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Update No. 97/01 on ICRC activities in Irian Jaya

24-11-1997 Operational Update

 Troubled region hit by drought  

In September two ICRC delegates, one of whom was a doctor, and two members of the Indonesian Red Cross Society (PMI) conducted a mission to the troubled region of Irian Jaya. Their findings indicated that a drought, coupled with nocturnal frost, had seriously affected the southern part of the island's central mountainous area. Destroyed crops and dried-up water sources make access to drinking water and fish difficult. Some 90,000 of an estimated population of 400,000 are already showing signs of malnutrition. Their weakened nutritional status also make the Irianese more prone to diseases endemic to this jungle region, such as malaria, dysentery and respiratory infections.

The particularly hard hit regions are isolated, mountainous, difficult of access and lack the most basic infrastructure. The pollution caused by the forest fires raging primarily in Borneo and Sumatra exacerbate the situation by limiting access by air. Moreover, the region has been the scene of violent clashes opposing the Indonesian security forces and the members of the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM - Free Papua Movement). In this conflictual context, the

ICRC has intervened on several occasions, visiting those arrested by the security forces, confirming the return of refugees from Papua New Guinea and acting as a neutral intermediary in the Wamena hostage-taking in 1996.

 ICRC proposes plan of action  

Given the gravity of the situation and the specific character of the region affected, the regional delegation in Jakarta made an offer of services to the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in October. This consisted in a joint PMI/ICRC plan of action taking a three-pronged approach:

- food: assess the nutritional status of the Irianese and define appropriate measures to assist them directly with relief aid and indirectly through agricultural programmes;

- water and sanitation: evaluate hygienic conditions and improve access to safe drinking water;

- health: analyse the most immediate medical needs, set up emergency medical facilities if necessary and provide medical assistance through mantris (local health officers).

 ICRC launches operation  

On 19 November, less than one week after receiving the green light from the Indonesian authorities, three ICRC delegates, including a nutritionist and a medical doctor, and three PMI members conducted a joint mission to Irian Jaya to fine-tune the forthcoming operation and to set up the necessary infrastructure. Initially, the ICRC and the Indonesian Red Cross will focus on the southern part of the central mountainous region from Timika and the south of the Baliem Valley from a base in Wamena. The Merauke area, near the border with Papua New Guinea, will be covered in a second phase.

Expected to last at least six months, this operation will then be evaluated and the decision taken whether it should be extended or modified in any way according to the needs.