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Drought forces tribes to go in search of food

South China Morning Post - November 11, 1997

Jenny Grant, Jakarta – Three isolated tribes in the Molucca Islands are being forced to leave their settlements in search of food as the drought bites harder in the eastern provinces.

Already it has cost more than 500 lives.

About 1,700 members of the Kadai, Siboyo and Mangei tribes on Mangole Island in the eastern Moluccas are searching the island for food, according to district official Umar Hassan.

Mr Hassan said the tribespeople had received no government assistance because they were "always on the move", the Jakarta Post reported.

He said the tribes were also forced to move on because a timber company was taking up land on the island. PT Barito Pacific is owned by timber tycoon Prajogo Pangestu. Mr Pangestu also held a 50 per cent share in Bank Andromeda, one of 16 banks closed by the Government on November 1.

In the neighbouring province of Irian Jaya the death toll from an outbreak of diarrhoea and malaria has killed 80 villagers in the past week. The deaths occurred in the highland Jayawijaya district and Merauke district which borders Papua New Guinea.

The head of the Jayawijaya district, Jos Buas Wenas, said 90,000 residents in his area were threatened by the malaria outbreak.

Military helicopters began dropping food and medical supples into remote villages in Merauke 10 days ago.

The head of Boma village in Merauke said 10 people had died from diarrhoea in two days and a further 102 people were very sick.

World Vision Indonesia estimates 200,000 people in 21 villages in Irian Jaya are affected by food shortages. Officials said at least three areas of East Nusa Tenggara were facing rice shortages. Villagers on Flores and Timor islands need an extra 100 tonnes of rice.

The Government fears food shortages and the five-month drought could spur social unrest before presidential elections in March.