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Extreme cold weather causes famine and deaths in Central Papua

Extreme cold weather in Agandugume and Lambewi Districts of Indonesia’s Central Papua triggers a humanitarian crisis with around 7,500 residents facing famine due to crop failure and disrupted food supplies. Tragically, six individuals, including an infant, have lost their lives due to these severe conditions.

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INDONESIA – Extreme cold weather in the Agandugume and Lambewi Districts of Puncak Regency, Central Papua, has led to a humanitarian crisis.

Since June last year, approximately 7,500 residents from these two districts have been grappling with famine due to crop failure and disrupted food supplies from other regions.

Tragically, six people from Puncak Regency, including an infant, have lost their lives as a result of the severe conditions.

According to Darwin Tobing, the Secretary of Puncak Regency, the deceased succumbed to exhaustion and bloody diarrhoea.

The situation has been particularly dire for pregnant women, with one mother forced to give birth prematurely while searching for food. Her baby tragically passed away shortly after birth.

“On average, residents who died experienced fatigue and suffered from bloody diarrhoea,” he said, as quoted by Antara on Monday (31 Jul).

Willem Wandik, the Regent of Puncak Regency, confirmed the impact of the extreme weather, which has become an annual occurrence in the area.

To address the crisis, the Puncak Regency Government declared a state of emergency in the affected districts from 7 June to 7 August.

Despite their efforts, relief operations have been hindered by the absence of flight services to the two districts. Airlines have refrained from operating in the area due to concerns over pilot safety and aircraft shootings.

Joko Widodo, the President of the Republic of Indonesia

The disaster management agency, Regional Disaster Management Agency of Puncak Regency (BPBD; Badan Penanggulangan Bencana Daerah) reported that around 7,500 people have been affected in the two districts. Distrik Agandugume accounts for approximately 3,000 affected individuals, while Distrik Lambewi has over 4,000 affected residents.

“I hope the safety of food transport aircraft is ensured. To those holding weapons, avoid armed conflicts; my people there need our attention,” he concluded.

In agreement with Willem, Darwin mentioned that the community had provided security assurances for aid-carrying planes flying to Agandugume. Consequently, aid from the regional government is delivered to Sinak and transported on foot for two days.

“The Puncak Regency Government is currently striving to find airlines willing to transport aid to the region as it includes not only logistics but also healthcare personnel,” Darwin said.

Head of the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), Lieutenant General Suharyanto, stated that BNPB will soon depart to Central Papua to provide aid.

“As of now, we are discussing the impact of El Nino. But in some parts of Indonesia, for example, when we go there to provide assistance, there is freezing rain,” said Suharyanto during a virtual dialogue themed ‘Beware of the Impact of El Nino’ on Monday (31 Jul).

Responding to the crisis, President Joko Widodo has instructed relevant authorities, including Menko PMK Muhadjir Effendy, Minister of Social Affairs Tri Rismaharini, and Head of BNPB Suharyanto, to expedite measures to alleviate the drought and famine.

However, the distribution of aid has faced significant challenges due to security concerns. Flights have been reluctant to land in the region, making it difficult to deliver essential supplies.

“However, the challenge is, you should know, that there are specific areas where nothing grows during the snowy season. The district is at a very high altitude,” said Joko Widodo (Jokowi) at Inlet Sodetan Ciliwung, East Jakarta, on Monday (31 Jul).

As for aid distribution, Jokowi admitted difficulties due to security issues. “Aircraft are afraid to land, causing further problems. That’s why I asked the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI) to assist in escorting the aid. The terrain is extremely challenging; the pilots are hesitant to land, leading to the ongoing issue,” he concluded.

The Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency (BMKG: Badan Meteorologi, Klimatologi, dan Geofisika) explained that the El Nino phenomenon has contributed to the abnormal cold weather in the region. El Nino results in increased sea surface temperatures in the central to eastern Pacific Ocean, leading to decreased rainfall in surrounding areas, including Indonesia.

El Nino’s effects have been diverse on a global scale. In some Latin American countries like Peru, it leads to increased rainfall.

However, in Indonesia, it has brought about dry conditions and reduced precipitation, causing droughts, affecting rice production, and disrupting groundwater reserves. Additionally, extreme weather fluctuations may trigger the emergence of diseases and pests, further damaging crops.

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