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Indonesia’s new year of woes

Updated On: Jan 05, 2007

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) has “mixed feelings” about entering the year 2007. This was revealed during the first-day opening of the stock exchange.

A year-end survey conducted by TNS Indonesia reflected pessimistic public sentiment about 2007, as more Indonesians say they are economically worse off compared to 12 months ago, with increased costs of basic goods and travel expenses as the main reasons.

The basis of such sombre assessments also come in part from the past year’s human security threats from natural disasters to environmental degradation and infectious diseases, along with the recent spate of transportation disasters, flood problems in Aceh and a rice shortage threatening the country’s poverty rate since end 2006.

Indonesian officials have launched a land, air and sea search with foreign help for the missing Adam Air Boeing 737 that was en route from Surabayato Manado on January 1 amidst severe weather.

The search has been hampered by bad weather, dense jungle terrain where the plane may have gone down in northern Indonesia, as well as confusion arising from top Indonesian aviation, military and police officials’ and the airline’s earlier claim on January 2 to have recovered the plane with 12 survivors.

Retraction of the claim the following day angered the media and caused further grievance to the passengers’ kin, as more than 150 gathered at a crisis centre outside the Manado airport demanding information. The Pikiran Umum daily reported that 'the people have been lied to…More embarrassingly, this news has been spread not just locally but all over the world’. In response, the commander of the Hassanuddin Air Force in MakassarSulawesi, Air Commodore Eddy Suyanto has apologised to the public for the miscommunication.

Weeks of seasonal rains and high winds in Indonesiahave also led to the sinking of three ferries over the past week. On December 28, a ferry carrying some 100 people from PalembangSumatra, to Bangkaisland capsized, leaving more than 30 people dead. The following day, the Senopati Nusantara, carrying 542 passengers and 57 crew, also sank after being pounded by heavy waves for more than 10 hours en route from Kumai in Kalimantanto Semarang. More than 400 were believed dead or missing, but rescuers found 28 survivors five days later. The latest incident took place off the resort islandof Bali on December 31, but all 11 people on board were rescued.

Bad weather also led to severe flooding and mudslide in Aceh since December 22, destroying around 7,000 homes and displacing 90,000 people in the Tamiang District out of a total population of 250,000, according to UNICEF. The situation has been brought under control however, in the last three days, due to a change in weather and efforts by international relief agencies to provide the victims with supplies.

Elsewhere, the country is facing a critical rice shortage as a result of depleting stocks, a prolonged drought and increased domestic consumption. To keep the price under control, the government began releasing buffer stocks from the National Logistics Agency (Bulog) two weeks ago to the wet markets. But officials said the agency's supplies are draining quickly and the government may need to consider lifting its two-year ban on imports, a recommendation mooted by the World Bank as well in its latest report attributing the recent rise in Indonesia's poverty rate to a 33 per cent increase in rice prices over the 12 months following last year's fuel price hikes.

Lifting the import ban – first imposed by former President Megawati to protect local farmers from international competition –  would not be a popular move. President SBY would risk criticism from his political opponents and the country’s farmers. Economists and agriculture analysts also recommended for the government to adopt new policy initiatives to increase production and diversify food consumption.

Sources:

Indonesia faces rice shortage (The Jakarta Post, 21 December 2006)

Indonesia hit by third ferry sinking in a week (AP/The Straits Times, 2 January 2007)

Indonesians feel worse off, pessimistic, survey says (The Jakarta Post, 2 January 2007)

Relief efforts ‘contain’ effects of flooding on Indonesian children and families (UNICEF, 3 January 2007)

Indon media blasts officials over ‘survivors’ (AFP/AP/The Straits Times, 3 January 2007)

Confusion over fate of missing Indonesian plane (The Straits Times, 3 January 2007)

Indon jetliner rescue hampered by weather (AP/The Straits Times, 4 January 2007)

Survivors from ferry saved after 5 days at sea (AFP/AP/The Straits Times, 4 January 2007)