02/06/2018, 16.12
INDONESIA
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Humanitarian emergency in Asmat district (Papua) "under control"

by Mathias Hariyadi

Some 72 people have died, mostly children. About 650 children have contracted measles and at least 223 suffer from malnutrition. For Agats’s bishop, the goal is to develop a medium-term plan to provide good food to natives.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The humanitarian emergency that caused the death from measles and malnutrition-related health problems of dozens of children in Papua province is "under control", this according to a statement issued by Indonesia’s Health Ministry.

At least 72 people, mostly children, died in Asmat, a remote area in the country’s easternmost province. The outbreak prompted health authorities to send medical and military teams to the region. A state of emergency was declared on 15 January to deal with "extraordinary" outbreak.

"The extraordinary status of the measles event has been revoked and is over," said Asmat district chief Elisa Kambu.

About 650 children contracted measles and at least 223 suffer from malnutrition. More than 17,300 children have been immunised, the Ministry said in a statement posted online.

The local Catholic Church has been among the first organisations to provide assistance to the local indigenous population.

The bishop of Agats, Mgr Aloysius Murwito (picture 2), dispatched two teams of volunteers to distribute aid in several villages located in an inaccessible area.

From Sorong, where he is meeting with the bishops of Merauke, Jayapura and Timika, the prelate spoke to AsiaNews, confirming the end of the emergency as announced by health authorities.

"However, our main concern now is to plan for the medium-term,” the bishop explained. The goal is “to provide good food to natives in twenty isolated villages in remote areas in two districts.”

To achieve this, “We have made many trips by motorboat to these remote settlements and handed out food and other basic necessities." However, the diocese’s volunteers and health workers face many difficulties.

Asmat is in the diocese of Agats and has unique traits not found anywhere else in Indonesia’s vast archipelago. The soil is not hardened, but mostly thick mud.

What is more, the district is a few hours by small motorboat from surrounding villages (picture 3), reachable via waters infested with crocodiles.

Navigating the area’s wide rivers (500 to 1,000 metres) can take up to three to five hours and is very dangerous and expensive.

To face the complexity of the operations, the financial support from Indonesian Catholics to the Agats community has been fundamental.

Mgr Aloysius Murwito reiterated his gratitude to all the faithful who contributed to the diocese’s humanitarian initiative.

Some Catholic organisations in Jakarta, like Sesawi.Net, the Sesawi Foundation, and the Indonesian Catholic Forum Society (FMKI), organised fundraisers to pay for volunteers’ dangerous trips on motorboats (picture 4).

One of the volunteers is Vero, a Catholic woman from Central Java who has lived in Asmat for 20 years. "The number of measles and rubella has sharply decreased,” she said, “but we still have a lot of work to do”.

Now the task is “allocate the funds raised from our donors to complete our mission,” said Mgr Murwito.

“I am deeply moved by the generosity they have shown in supporting our Caritas programme. It is really true that through group work, we can do things that we would never have thought of before.”

Donations have made the diocese of Agats "financially able” to provide food support to meet local needs. “Alone we are weak, but together we become able and strong.”

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