Due to serious drought conditions caused by the strongest El Niño phenomenon in fifty years, many parts of Indonesia are suffering from decreased crop output. Concurrently, the country has been caught in a regional economic crisis that has affected its ability to import rice, its main staple food.
In its current appeal, WFP seeks to provide 225,000 metric tons of rice and blended foods to feed approximately 4.6 million of the most vulnerable Indonesians, including pregnant women and nursing mothers, children under five and families who only have enough food for one meal a day. The UN agency will also direct a number of community Food-For-Work activities, including fire hazard awareness and prevention programmes.
The emergency operation, which will complement national efforts, will help the country survive the upcoming dry season beginning in May and will last until next spring's expected harvest.
WFP's appeal urges donor countries for assistance in the form of loans, grants, concessionary imports and targeted food aid.
"We ask the international community to act now to prevent the present food shortage from developing into a major food crisis," WFP Executive Director Catherine Bertini said. "The people of Indonesia need our help to recover from these recent calamities."
According to findings from a joint mission to the country conducted by WFP and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in March, 7.5 million people in 15 provinces will likely experience acute household food insecurity over the next 12 months. The mission also found that Indonesia's rice import requirements would be about 3.5 million tons during the current marketing year, which ends 31 March 1999.
The FAO/WFP report released after the mission stated that more and more Indonesians are living below the poverty line due to the country's reduced ability to buy imported goods, steep increases in food prices and a rapidly growing unemployment rate. Due to the current downturn in the economy, the government can no longer afford to continue all of its poverty alleviation programmes.
Prior to the current crisis, external food assistance to Indonesia had not been required since 1996. This was due to improving socio-economic trends in the country and the government's ability to meet import requirements with its own resources, the report said.
The WFP appeal for Indonesia was jointly approved by WFP Executive Director Catherine Bertini and Jacques Diouf, Director General of FAO.
The World Food Programme is the United Nations' front-line agency in the fight against global hunger. Last year, its relief workers fed 52 million people, including most of the world's refugees. Headquartered in Rome, Italy, the WFP operates in 76 countries around the world.
For further information, please contact:
Chief Spokesman, WFP/Rome
Tel. +39-6 6513-2602
Information Officer, WFP/Geneva
Tel. +41-22 979-9564
Information Officer, WFP/New York
Tel. +1-212 963-5196