Indonesian poor increase threefold in two years: 40 million face food crisis

Originally published
Indonesia's economy is rapidly deteriorating, marked by the soaring number of poor, estimated at 40 million, who now face severe food shortages. "The current economic crisis hassignificantly increased the number of the poor," Chief of the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS)Sugito Suwito said in Jakarta on 2 July. CBS has now reported that as of June 1998 the numberof people living below the poverty line has more than tripled to 79.4 million or 39.1 percent of the entire population of 202 million. In 1996, some 22.5 million (11.3 percent) of the population lived below the poverty line.
Throughout Indonesia, the poor are facing food shortages as a result of soaring inflation and the rupiah's free fall against major world currencies. Prices of various goods, including staple foods, have jumped between 100 and 300 percent since August 1997. Inflation has been between 80 and 100 percent this year. The rupiah's current value against the U.S. dollar has maintained only some 15 percent of the value it enjoyed in August 1997.

In an effort to provide cheaper food to the poor, the government plans to provide subsidized rice paddies to some 7.5 million people living in the lowest economic strata. A prolonged drought since 1997 and negative estimates on future food production have resulted in a lack of food supplies in many areas throughout the country. Recently, Indonesia has bought rice from Vietnam and other countries to meet the gap. Rice imports will likely reach 3.0 to 4.0 million tons this year. This will surely put more pressure on the country's limited foreign exchange reserves.

World Vision has played a major role in lightening the burden of the poor and drought victims by channeling relief food in to the Jayawijaya highlands since October 1997. More than 50,000 people have benefited from this assistance. Australia, the U.S., Canada and donors from other countries have also supported this effort. A few days ago, World Vision initiated another major safety net project in the East Sumba district of East Nusa Tenggara province funded by the Australian government. This food-and-cash for work program will operate for six months.