Jayapura/Surabaya. Activists in West Papua province say that up to 95 people have died of hunger in Tambrauw district since last November, with hundreds more still at risk.
Frits Bernard Kamuki Ramandey, the acting secretary of the Papua office of the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM), said on Wednesday night that it was inconceivable how the authorities had allowed people to starve to death.
“Obviously the local authorities have let the situation get out of control,” he said.
“How can so many people be suffering from this? This is no natural disaster.”
He added that Komnas HAM had recorded 95 deaths in the subdistrict of Kwor between November last year and the end of March this year.
Gabriel, the Tambrauw district chief, acknowledged that there was a malnutrition problem in the area, but refuted Komnas HAM’s figure, saying that only 15 people had died during that period.
He said he had ordered medical teams to visit the affected subdistrict and was preparing to evacuate residents to other areas where they would have better access to medical care and food.
Very little is known about the current situation in Kwor, with the few reports coming out of the remote and isolated community suggesting that the area is in the grip of some sort of epidemic causing people to die of malnutrition.
Bovit Bofar, a rights activist who was one of the few people to visit the area, said the mystery illness was taking a particularly heavy toll because of the lack of health care services in the affected villages.
“The villages that have been hit are deep in the hinterland, and there’s no way for them to communicate with outside communities,” he said.
He said that the worst-hit area was the village of Baddei, where 45 people were reported to have died and another 250 people have fallen ill. In Kosefo village, 35 are dead and 75 sick, while in Jokjoker, 15 people have died and 210 are ill, Bovit said.
However, the Health Ministry has attributed the illnesses and deaths to a range of problems endemic to the region, including malaria, food scarcity and lack of proper hygiene and sanitation.
Murti Utami, a spokeswoman for the ministry, said in Surabaya on Thursday that health officials were headed to the district to identify the cause of the illnesses and gauge the true extent of the problem.
She also refuted the high death toll posited by the activists.