Published: Sunday 15 November 1998

-- Over 17 million people across Indonesia, the fourth largest nation of the world, are facing acute food shortages. Food and horticulture minister A M Saefuddin said that the country is at the brink of a famine. In the densely-populated provinces of east and central Java alone, 4.4 million people can now afford only one meal a day, he said.

In a country where the average family comprises of four members, 9.7 million people are able to afford only two meals a day. The crisis can be gauged from the fact that hungry farmers are being forced to eat seed grains meant to be used for the next harvest. There has been a massive rise in the prices of essential commodities sparking off looting of fish farms, onion fields, rice mills, shops and warehouses, rice fields and even rice trucks in several areas.

The government rice stocks have thinned to about two million tonnes. Officials and analysts have blamed speculators, corrupt officials, hoarders and smugglers for contributing to the shortage and high prices of essentials, despite government assurances of adequate stocks. To overcome the crisis, the Indonesian government has signed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), wherein the later will provide heavily subsidised food to millions of people.

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