Indonesia: has the push come to the shove?

Updated On: Sep 08, 2006

Indonesia is a big country with scattered islands. It is also a country in transition to democracy while facing challenges from Islamic fundamentalism. In a country like this, changes are not easy and they take time.

Facing tremendous international pressure, head of the local health office in Tangerang Dr Djadja Buddy Rahardja announced that Indonesia will set up a bird flu handling centre here in the near future to overcome bird flu cases. Lots of promises were given.

"The compound of the centre will be designed based on international standards with funding from donor countries and organisations including Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan, the United Nations Children`s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO)," he said.

"The centre will have many kinds of equipment, the medicines needed to fight the bird flu virus and a training venue for paramedics on ways to treat patients," Dr Buddy Rahardja said. The Indonesian press reported that when “asked when the project would be commenced, he said it would be started as soon as the donor countries and organizations had sent the needed equipment and other materials”.

Has this come too late? Since Indonesia had its first human bird flu case in Tangerang, Indonesia has broken several records, including having the biggest bird flu cluster case with at least 10 provinces (officially declared one) affected by the disease and bird flu cases are now found in 29 of the country's 33 provinces. Stubbornly and against the advice of most international agencies for the mass culling solution, the Indonesian government is going ahead with a plan to use the controversial HVN2 vaccine on more than 300 million poultry nationwide to fight bird flu from September to December 2006. Even with the vaccination option, the same problems remain. How is Indonesia going to carry this out? Many regional administrations did not have livestock offices to facilitate the process and those that do have such facilities are understaffed and are unable to reach many at-risk areas.

Other than chickens, their droppings remain another huge public hygiene problem. In Ambon, animal quarantine officers and the Ambon Police seized at least two tons of contaminated fertilizer made from bird droppings transported from Makassarby sea to Nania village in Baguala district for use by vegetable farmers. Maluku,North MalukuNorth Sulawesiand Gorontalo are the only four provinces left in the country that remain free from bird flu.

In another issue which has affected Indonesia’s regional prestige recently, National Police Chief General Sutanto, told a parliamentary hearing that a total of 241 people would face trial over the fires in Sumatraand the Indonesian part of Borneo island. According to AFP, Gen Sutanto said that in the Indonesian part of Borneoisland, a total of two companies, 129 residents and 37 company employees would face trial over the forest fires. Despite the arrests, Indonesia is notorious for its lax prosecution outcomes, thus providing incentives for businesses and individuals to continue ignoring Jakarta’s ban on land-clearing by fire.

Indonesia has much less success in its other fight against the haze through the use of rain-inducing chemicals. In parts of Pontianak, the state Agency for Research and Technology Advancement, has been unsuccessfully trying to induce rain by spreading chemicals from airplanes over nearby Ketapang district, one of the main sources of haze in the province, AFP reported citing a forestry official.

It is unclear if Indonesia’s re-energized public proclamations of action plans on bird flu and the haze has anything to do with its intentions to lobby for a UN Security Council seat. Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said his nation "had a big chance" of winning a non-permanent seat on the council next month following South Korea's apparent withdrawal from the race. Its nearest rival for the Asian seat is Nepal, a country unlikely to prevail against Indonesia’s demographic card of being the world’s most populous Muslim nation, a banner used tirelessly by Indonesia to tout its qualifications for the seat to the international community.


Govt to build bird flu handling centre in Tangerang (ANTARA, 5 September 2006)

Govt to use H5N2 drug for mass vaccinations (The Jakarta Post, 5 September 2006)

240 Indonesians face charges over forest fires (AFP/Straits Times, 5 September 2006)

Rain efforts fail to clear haze around Pontianak (Antara, 5 September 2006)

Indonesia confident it will win U.N. Security Council seat (AP/Jakarta Post, 5 September 2006)

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