Indonesia faces long-term emergency

News and Press Release
Originally published
UNICEF said today that multiple threats to the health, well-being and basic education of Indonesia's children constitute nothing short of an international emergency. Increased humanitarian aid is urgently needed to meet worsening economic and social conditions in the world's fourth-largest nation, according to UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy.
Ms. Bellamy's message coincided with Indonesia's Independence Day today.

"The fate of millions of Indonesian children and women is at stake," she said. "Some four million Indonesian children below the age of two are already severely malnourished and more than 30 per cent of the country's children are at risk of failing to complete primary school. Civil unrest has lead to egregious violations of human rights. Catastrophic economic collapse, with the local currency worth less than one-fifth its previous value and consumer staples nearly doubled in price, will have an impact on the country for years to come."

Ms. Bellamy expressed concern that over $50 billion in emergency loans to Indonesia by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and other lending agencies may not be enough to turn things around. "It will take years for Indonesia to recover," she stated, "and sustained international aid is critically important to saving the lives of children. The world community must do what is necessary to rescue the potential of Indonesian children through good nutrition and schooling that will enable them to participate in the competitive world of the 21st century."

"A growing number of poor families are either not enrolling their young children in school or pulling older children out so they can assist in supporting the family," Ms. Bellamy explained. "UNICEF is supporting a major Back-to-School campaign to try to keep all children in school. We are concerned, however, that this important initiative will collapse if we do not have the necessary funds."

In terms of UNICEF's funding expectations, some $5 million in promised block grants for education of poor children has not yet been received.

On the nutritional front, despite generous grants from Australia, Canada, Norway, United States and others, UNICEF is still well short of the $18 million a year needed to help ensure that all of Indonesia's children under two years of age are adequately nourished.

In March, UNICEF launched a Rapid Response Complementary Food Initiative to provide low-cost food to Indonesian infants. "Pre-packaged fortified infant food is sold at a nominal price of 4 US cents for 500 grams -- enough to supply one child for 10 days," Ms. Bellamy explained. "In light of the low costs involved, it is deeply regrettable that we do not have sufficient funds in hand."

UNICEF is re-orienting its entire Programme of Cooperation in Indonesia so as to increase responsiveness to the deepening crisis. For obvious reasons, however, the organization is placing primary emphasis on directly supporting poor families to meet their basic health, water supply and nutritional needs in the difficult conditions of the current hyper-inflation. UNICEF is collaborating with a number of non-governmental organizations in implementing these programmes and working closely with the Indonesian Government to ensure that national policies give adequate focus to the rights of children and women.

Ms. Bellamy also expressed concern for human rights in Indonesia and urged vigorous prosecution of those responsible for the rape of more than 150 ethnic Chinese women and girls, mainly in and around Jakarta, during several days of rioting after the fall of the Suharto government in May.

"Given the unrelenting nature of crises that affect children and women around the globe, donor fatigue is understandable," Ms. Bellamy concluded. "But when we can measure in a few pennies the difference between life and death, we must make sure that all that can be done will be done, and as soon as humanly possible."

Please email with comments or requests for more information, quoting CF/DOC/PR/1998/40.