Poor visibility hinders food-aid to remote areas by air

THE BIG HAZE

Drought killing many in these areas.

WORSENING haze conditions are stopping planes from bringing food to the remote Indonesian province of Irian Jaya where more than 150 people have died due to a drought.

Mr J.B. Wenas, head of the Jayawijaya district where food shortages have been exacerbated by cholera, said that planes and helicopters have not been able to get into the valley because of thick smoke and haze.

“We are being held back by weather conditions. It depends on whether we can reach the areas hit by the drought,” the Antara national news agency yesterday quoted him as saying.

About 500 hectares of forest in Jayawijaya, which is surrounded by mountains, is currently burning. Smoke levels have been aggravated by a local belief that making smoke encourages rain.

Irian Jaya governor Jacob Patipi said that nearly all small aircraft in the eastern province, one of the remotest in the world, have been mobilised to take food supplies to Jayawijaya which he described as a disaster area.

Antara reported that 154 people have died in the district since last month because of the lack of food and clean water in particularly 15 villages.

Neighbouring areas were also suffering food shortages. Mr Patipi said that the shortages had caused cholera, killing many of the victims.

He said that planes operated by the Indonesian air force and missionaries were attempting to drop food and medicine into remote areas. Ten tonnes of rice had already been sent to Wamena, the main town in Jayawijaya, and was ready to be lifted and dropped in the area.

He said that additional aid in the form of cooked yam, instant noodles and medicine will follow to ease living conditions in the face of the dry season which has yet to reach its peak.

Indonesia is facing its worst drought in half a century as the global El Nino weather pattern has threatened to postpone rain for several months.

The drought’s effects have been worsened by forest and land fires in Irian Jaya, Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Malaysia has indicated that it will send up to 400 fire-fighters in Indonesia to fight the forest fires. Two hundred would be sent to Kalimantan and another 200 to Sumatra.

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