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[Hunger Alert] INDONESIA: 113 villagers’ hunger deaths caused by government neglect as well as harvest failure in Yahukimo, Papua

 

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – HUNGER ALERT PROGRAMME

Hunger Alert Case: AHRC-HAC-006-2009



16 September 2009
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INDONESIA: 113 villagers’ hunger deaths caused by government neglect as well as harvest failure in Yahukimo, Papua

ISSUES: right to food, right to health; agriculture; famine
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from human rights groups working in Yahukimo that since January 2009 till now approximately 113 villagers in Yahukimo, Papua, died of hunger associated with diseases. The harvest failure this year caused by climate change resulted in deaths which aggravated lack of food in the villages. It affected seven districts including Suntamon, Langda, Bomela, Seradala, Walma, Pronggoli and Heryakpini and 26 sub-districts. The affected areas had already suffered the deaths of 55 villagers from starvation due to harvest failure in 2005. The government however failed to improve agricultural facilities in order to ensure food security since then.

CASE DETAILS:

According to information collected by Indonesian Social Services Christian Foundation (Yayasan Kristen Pelayanan Sosial Masyarakat Indonesia; YAKPESMI), bad weather and heavy rain have severely affected the Yahukimo recency of Papua, especially from May until August. This has caused residents’ harvests to fail. The scarcity of food has led to an increase in diseases, such as malaria and diarrhea.

The number of people that have died of starvation in Yahukimo regency has reached 113 since January 2009; more than 31 people had died in Langda, 34 in Bomela, nearly 20 in Seredala and 10 in Suntamon. According to Yuliat Iksomon, the head of the Yahukimo disaster response team, deaths caused by starvation also happened in another three districts of Yahukimo; Walma, Pronggoli, and Heryakpini. In Walma district itself, it is reported that as many as 60 people have died of starvation associated with diseases.

The government has denied that there is a lack of food which has lead to villagers dying of starvation. It was published that the Secretary of Yahukimo administration Mr. Robby Langkutoy as well as the Ministry of Social Welfare, have denied the villagers died of starvation but rather from diseases and failed harvest. Conversely, in recent days, Ones Pahabol, the chief of Papua's Yahukimo regency, announced that the villagers in 26 sub-districts were starving due to the failure of the sweet potato harvest, which is the main staple food in the area.

On 14 September 2009, the central government sent food aid of 100 tons of rice, sweet potatoes and other foodstuffs including noodles to the effected area. However, despite the fact the government has admitted the villagers suffered from various diseases, medical aid has not yet reached the villagers.

BACKGROUND INFOMRATION:

Even before 2009 the villagers in Yahukimo regency were suffering from extreme poverty and lack of facilities and resources for food security. However, the government has ignored their living circumstances and has not paid particular attention to the dire circumstances of the village communities.

In 2005, it was reported that 55 people had died of starvation due to harvest failure. The government accepted that there had been a failure of the harvest due to bad weather, but refused to accept that people are dying due to starvation. Instead it insisted that disease and lack of food due to a failed harvest were the main causes of death, not starvation.

Despite this, twelve food storage facilities were constructed in 2006 to assist those that had suffered from crop failure. Unfortunately, this was not effective in preventing starvation and did not ensure food security, as the storage facilities were not suitable for storing sweet potatoes – the staple food in the region. It was also claimed that the Ministry of Social Welfare, in 2006, distributed good quality seeds free of charge in Yahukimo. This happened only once.

Many villagers live in high land areas; Yahukimo is remote and isolated. Daily food sources come from home grown produce such as sweet potato or potato. If villagers fail to harvest enough produce to support their families, they immediately face starvation. While finding it difficult to harvest sufficient food, the villagers can eat only one meal a day. Although villagers collect vegetables and fruits from the forest, it is not enough for them to be free from hunger. The lack of infrastructure such as roads or public transportation in Yahukimo also aggravates food insecurity.

It is widely accepted that malnutrition or starvation affects the immune system of the human body, which then leads to diseases such as diarrhea, wasting, or breathing difficulty among other things (Please refer to the AHRC statement for more information on malnutrition and diseases). Any analysis which does not consider the extremely poor living conditions of these villagers will only expose the superficial symptoms. The denial, by the government, of a proper investigation into this situation and a lack of professional knowledge is irresponsible.

Furthermore, along with the government’s denial of starvation deaths, they are reluctant to detail exact information of the deceased villagers. Children, who are more vulnerable to malnutrition and diseases, need urgent medical attention. However, no accurate information about the children has been revealed. It is also extremely concerning that the deaths were disclosed several months after they occurred. To prevent further deaths and ensure food security the government should undertake a full investigation into the deceased villagers, detailing information such as age, gender, symptoms of sickness, living condition and food intake before the death.

ADDITIONAL COMMENT:

The right to food is a fundamental right of each Indonesian person. It is enshrined in theAct of the Republic of Indonesia Number 7 of 1996 on Food. The Act also states that sufficient availability of safe, nutritious and quality food is a main pre-requisite which must be met in the effort to establish a system which provides adequate health protection, and plays a larger role in increasing the prosperity and welfare of the people.

Section 17 of Article 1 in Chapter 1 says,

Food security is the condition in which the fulfillment of food for the households is reflected by the availability of sufficient food both its quantity and quality, safe, evenly distributed and within reach.

As is evidenced in the deaths by starvation in Yahukimo, food is not available for the villagers. This is the most basic entitlement in the right to food according to the Act as well as international law. Food aid is necessary for initial emergencies but is crucial to preventing future emergency situations from arising. Despite the numerous deaths by starvation in Yahukimo since 2005, the government has failed to ensure the right to food in the long term by not establishing an adequate food system. As a consequence the neglect and denial of the government has led to more deaths through starvation this year. This is a serious violation of the right to food.

As a state party of International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Indonesian government has an obligation to take steps with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights in ICESCR, including right to adequate food as enshrined in Article 11 paragraph 1 of ICESCR.

Article 11 paragraph 2 of the ICESCR also clearly states that, "The States parties to the present Covenant, recognizing the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger, shall take, individually and through inter needed: a) To improve methods of production, conservation, and distribution of food by making full use of technical and scientific knowledge, by disseminating knowledge of the principles of nutrition and by developing or reforming agrarian systems in such a way as to achieve the most efficient development and utilization of natural resources; b) Taking into account the problems of both food importing and food exporting countries, to ensure an equitable distribution of world food supplies in relation to need".

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write a letter to express your deep concern about starvation deaths in Papua, Indonesia. The AHRC has also written a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Food calling for intervention into this case.

To support this appeal please click here:

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear __________,

Re: INDONESIA: 113 villagers died of starvation associated with other diseases in Yahukimo, Papua

Name of victims: 113 villagers died of starvation
Date of incident: since January 2009 till now
Place of incident: Suntamon, Langda, Bomela, Seradala, Walma, Pronggoli and Heryakpini Districts, Yahukimo, Papua

I am writing to voice my deep concern regarding 113 villagers died of starvation associated with other diseases in seven Districts located easternmost province in Papua since January 2009.

The number of people that have died of starvation in Yahukimo regency has reached 113 since January 2009; more than 31 people have died in Langda, 34 in Bomela, nearly 20 in Seredala and 10 in Suntamon. According to the head of Yahukimo disaster response team, Yuliat Iksomon, death caused by starvation also occurred in another three districts of Yahukimo regency, which are Walma, Pronggoli, and Heryakpini. In Walma district itself, it is reported that as many as 60 people have died of starvation associated with other diseases.

I am informed that the villagers in affected areas have been suffering from lack of food and resources for years. The villagers face starvation deaths every year, of which the number went up to over 100 in this year alone. It is reported that the deaths by starvation was caused by the failure of agricultural production, which is the only food resource in the villages. However, I am of the opinion that the neglect of the government as well as failure of building a food security system is the main reason exacerbating starvation deaths. I reach this conclusion thus;

First, the government has already experienced starvation deaths in affected areas since 2005. I have learned that the government then denied the deaths by starvation and stated that the deaths were caused by harvest failure. The government somehow took an action to provide a facility for food storage and good quality seeds in 2006. However, the efforts the government made were inefficient and temporary. Since then, the government has been ignoring the production failure often affected by climate change and has not paid attention to the deaths of starvation that have happened each year.

Second, the affect villages - remote and isolated areas - are extremely limited in food resources. Villagers merely depend on the sweet potato or potato harvested for their main food source. Most of the villagers do not have any other livelihood to obtain daily food. Once they failed to harvest sufficient food products, they immediately face starvation. Although they collect vegetables or fruit from the nearby forest, it is not enough to ensure they are free from hunger. I am informed that many of the villagers found it difficult to obtain two meals a day this year. In fact, the main food product is not nutritious enough to ensure the right to adequate food. Furthermore, I am very concerned as to how the children are obtaining sufficient and necessary nutrition for their growth.

Thirdly, there is an absolute lack of basic infrastructure in affected areas. Some areas can be approached only by air transportation, others can not even manage public transportation due to lack of road. For those who want to get rice or other foodstuffs at the market in town, the transportation fee is much higher than the price of rice. Moreover, it makes it difficult to provide food aid for the affected areas.

Forth, the harvest failure can be overcome by appropriate food distribution and investment for agriculture for which the government failed to do. Once the government identified the vulnerable areas of food security, they can improve the agricultural production and prevent the death of starvation by building up the system to ensure the right to food. The harvest failure is not a satisfactory or adequate excuse for the government to justify its neglect.

I am also informed that the government has denied that the villagers died of starvation and further have been reluctant to detail exact information regarding the deceased villagers. The government's official analysis on the cause of deaths both in 2005 and in 2009 exposes its lack of common knowledge and responsible attitude. The harvest failure in the villages leads to lack of food and starvation resulting in deaths. It is unreasonable to say that the villagers died not of starvation but failure of harvest. The analysis without consideration of extremely poor living condition only diagnoses the superficial symptoms.

The irresponsible attitude of the government is also reflected in the fact that the death was disclosed only several months after they occurred. To prevent further deaths and to ensure food security, the government should make a transparent investigation into the deceased villagers detailing information such as, age, gender, symptoms of sickness, living condition, food intake before the death etc.

Learning from the ineffective government action in the past, I am afraid that this reported case of the starvation particularly in regions such as Papua or West/East Nusa Tenggara might only be the tip of the iceberg. It is often told that the starvation and malnutrition cases take place in those areas, but no substantial action is taken by the government.

I am aware that the Right to food is a fundamental right of each Indonesian person. It is enshrined in the Act of the Republic of Indonesia Number 7 of 1996 on Food. The Act also states that sufficient availability of safe, nutritious and quality food is a main pre-requisite, which must be met in the effort to arrange a system which provides for health protection and to play a larger role in increasing the prosperity and welfare of the people. As it is shown in the villagers’ deaths in Yahukimo, there is neither availability of food, which is most basic food security entitlement, nor effective action taken by the government.

I am further informed that on 14 September the central government sent food aid of 100 tons of rice, sweet potatoes and other foodstuffs including noodles. Despite the fact that the government admitted the villagers suffered from various diseases, medical aid has not yet reached the villagers. Food aid is absolutely necessary for emergencies at the first stage. It is further demanded that the government take positive and long-term action to construct a system for food security.

I am also aware that as a state party of International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Indonesian government has an obligation to take steps with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights in ICESCR, including right to adequate food as enshrined in Article 11 paragraph 1 of ICESCR.

In light of the above, I strongly urge you to take immediate action to prevent more deaths by starvation and to ensure food security in Yahukimo like below:

1. Conduct a transparent investigation into the deceased villagers and the current situation in particular regarding children;
2. Immediately provide sufficient and nutritious food and medical aids;
3. Provide special attention in affected areas with a system ensuring sufficient agricultural products;
4. Construct basic infrastructure such as roads or public transportation in order to assist and promote food security, and
5. Provide agrarian education system for the villagers to strengthen their skill and capacity as well as necessary facilities to prevent failure of harvest.

I look forward to your prompt and substantial response.

Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. Susilo Bambang Yudoyono
President of Republic of Indonesia
Presidential Palace
Jl. Medan Merdeka Utara
Jakarta Pusat 10010
INDONESIA
Fax: + 62 21 231 41 38, 345 2685, 345 7782
E-mail: president@ri.go.id

2. Ms. Siti Fadilah Supari
Ministry of Health
Jl. H.R. Rasuna Said
Blok X 5 Kav. 4-9 Blok A
Jakarta 12950
INDONESIA

3. Mr. Aburizal Bakrie
Ministry of Social Welfare
Jl. Merdeka Barat
No. 3, Jakarta Pusat
INDONESIA
Fax: +62 21 3453289
E-mail: biro_informasi@menkokesra.go.id

4. Mr. Ifdhal Kasim
Chairperson
KOMNAS HAM (National Human Rights Commission)
Jl. Latuharhary No. 4B Menteng
Jakarta Pusat 10310
INDONESIA
Fax: +62 21 3151042/3925227
E-mail: info@komnasham.or.id

5. Mr. Peter French
Deputy Regional Director and OIC (Bangkok)
World Food Programme (WFP)
Unit No. 2, 7th Floor, Wave Place Building
55 Wireless Road
Lumpini, Patumwan
Bangkok 10330
THAILAND
Fax: +66 2 655 4413
E-mail: peter.french@wfp.org

6. Country Director
Wisma Kyoei Prince, 9th floor
Jalan Jend. Sudirman kav. 3
Jakarta 10220
INDONESIA
Fax: +62 21 5709001
E-mail: WFP.Jakarta@wfp.org

Thank you.

Right to Food Programme (foodjustice@ahrc.asia)
Urgent Appeal Programme (ua@ahrc.asia)
Asian Human Rights Commission

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[Hunger Alert] INDONESIA: 113 villagers’ hunger deaths caused by government neglect as well as harvest failure in Yahukimo, Papua

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from human rights groups working in Yahukimo that since January 2009 till now approximately 113 villagers in Yahukimo, Papua, died of hunger associated with diseases. The harvest failure this year caused by climate change resulted in deaths which aggravated lack of food in the villages. It affected seven districts including Suntamon, Langda, Bomela, Seradala, Walma, Pronggoli and Heryakpini and 26 sub-districts. The affected areas had already suffered the deaths of 55 villagers from starvation due to harvest failure in 2005. The government however failed to improve agricultural facilities in order to ensure food security since then.