Rice ‘blessing’ from S’pore

Singapore unloads 32,000 bags of rice as part of the Government’s $12 million aid package to Indonesia.

THE early morning rain did not drown the enthusiasm.

Three beats of the gong and the 18-tonne crane from the Singapore-registered vessel, Jaya Venus, yesterday unloaded the first 40 sacks of a shipload of rice that the Republic is giving to Indonesia. “These are showers of blessing,” said Indonesian armed forces (Abri) spokesman, Major Apang Sopandi, as the white bags, each weighing 50 kg, were placed on more than 100 trucks headed for outlying areas in Lampung, Sumatra’s southern-most province.

Altogether, 32,000 sacks or roughly 1,600 metric tonnes of rice were unloaded as part of the Singapore Government’s $12 million humanitarian aid package to Indonesia. Each sack had the label: “From the Government and people of Singapore”.

Lieutenant-Colonel Namasevayam, who represented Singapore at the handover ceremony, said that the ship’s crew, all national servicemen, was working around the clock to unload the rice.

“Many of us have seen media reports of how bad the situation is in some parts of the country,” he said.

“That is driving us to put in that extra effort to help the Indonesians. It is an honour to do a good deed for a neighbour.”

Local military and government officials said that the food aid would go some way towards alleviating the hardship in the province and, more importantly, defuse any potential unrest because of food shortages.

Said an Abri officer at the ceremony: “Whoever said that Singapore is not a friend? From a security perspective, they are helping to keep Indonesia stable in difficult times. Any country that comes to our aid is more than a friend. Singapore is like family to us.”

Lampung’s Governor Oemarsono added that the aid was a reflection that friendship between the two Asean countries “is not based on empty diplomatic talk, but concrete cooperation”.

Major Sopandi said that the military would use its organisational network to distribute rice to some 160,000 families, or 700,000 people in north, south and west Lampung. Each family would be given 10 kg of rice.

“It will be a welcome relief for the starving, who have not eaten rice for a long time,” he said. Authorities here said that about 55 per cent of the province’s 6.5 million people are living below the poverty line.

Lieutenant (NS) Khoo Yuan Hong, the commanding officer of Jaya Venus, said that the 130-metre-long ship with a capacity of 7,600 metric tonnes, would also be heading for Palembang and Medan to deliver food aid.

Food aid would also be sent to Semarang, Surabaya and Ujung Pandang. The aid to Lampung and these other areas comprise a first shipment of 10,000 metric tonnes of rice, as well as a supply of medicine.

The humanitarian assistance, first pledged by Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in June, reflects Singapore’s concern for the welfare of Indonesians as the crippling economic crisis hits poor households hard.

Reports here said that almost half of the country’s 200 million population will not be able to afford food or other necessities by the end of the year because of the crisis.

Posted in Indonesia