Tue, 19 Aug 2003

74 percent of Papuans live in isolation and poverty

Nethy Dharma Somba, The Jakarta Post, Jayapura, Papua

Indonesia integrated Papua into its sovereign territory 40 years ago, but most Papuans are still living in a state of poverty in remote areas, even though the province is rich in natural resources.

Although the central government granted the troubled province special autonomy in 2001 to improve its socio-economic condition and to appease separatist movements, the Papuans are still impoverished.

Papua Governor Jaap Salossa said that 74.24 percent of the more than 2.3-million-strong population are living in remote areas without access to proper transportation and other public facilities such as steep slopes, isolated isles and deep gorges.

This demographic condition made the implementation of Law No. 21/2001 on special autonomy ineffective in Papua, Salossa said at a ceremony on Sunday to celebrate Indonesia's 58th Independence Day in the provincial capital of Jayapura.

Only a handful of Papuans are able to enjoy the fruits of development following the granting of special autonomy, he said.

Salossa said the isolation of the majority of the Papuans had created social rifts within the population, which could lead to national disintegration.

However, analysts and many Papuans have blamed corruption, allegedly involving local officials, for the ineffectiveness of the special autonomy in eradicating poverty.

Salossa said poverty was the cause of the low quality of life in Papua, with the infant mortality rate standing at 79 per 1,000 births.

At least 49.6 percent of Papuans have not been educated or had failed to complete elementary school, while only 21.64 percent had passed elementary school, 10.06 had completed senior high school and a mere 1.9 percent had graduated from university, he added.

He said the poor access to social and economic service centers, due to a lack of roads linking remote and coastal areas to major cities, had left most Papuans deprived of the facilities and services of modern life.

This backwardness had also caused the prices of basic foodstuffs to skyrocket by around 45 percent of Jakarta prices. Even in remote areas like Puncak Jaya regency, the prices of basic foods could be three times as much as prices in Jayapura.

Basic commodities are delivered to Puncak Jaya from Jayapura by small planes, which also raised distribution costs.

Salossa called on all communities in Papua to help make the special autonomy a success, in order to curb separatist movements in the troubled province.

He also urged separatists living in jungles to return and join the unitary state of Indonesia to begin a new life under the special autonomy in Papua.

The Free Papua Movement (OPM) and the Papua Presidium Council (DPP), which have been campaigning for several decades for an independent Papua, are opposed to the special autonomy.