Thu, 18 Sep 2003

'Number of families needing free rice up to 400,000'

Yuli Tri Suwarni and Suherdjoko, The Jakarta Post, Bandung/Semarang

The number of poor families slated to receive free rice in those regencies worst affected by the devastating drought across the country has increased to almost 400,000, Minister of Social Affairs Bachtiar Chamsyah said on Wednesday.

Based on earlier reports from regents in Java, only around 250,000 families would have been entitled to the free rice, he said.

"It appears that many regents have increased the numbers, so that there are now obviously discrepancies between the latest figures and the data we received previously," he told journalists in Bandung, West Java.

Bachtiar said that the increase caused the unequal distribution of the free rice in the drought-plagued regencies.

The central government has allocated around 20,000 tons of free rice for 250,000 families in the 18 regencies in Java that have been worst hit by the prolonged dry season.

Under the plan, each family was expected to receive 40 kilograms per month in August and September, but most of them received less than this due to the increase in the number of those entitled to receive the food aid.

Bachtiar said only 2,000 tons of rice had been distributed to the recipients so far. He did not elaborate.

The minister said the central government had not yet decided on whether to provide more rice so as to ensure that all of the 400,000 poor families would receive their fair share, as his ministry had still to verify the latest figures.

"The verification process will have been finished by the end of this month, and we will decide then whether to increase the stock of free rice or not," he said.

In addition to the free rice program, the central government has also launched job creation schemes for those who have been prevented from working their land due to the drought.

Farmers and others employed on the schemes are paid Rp 15,000 each per day.

In Central Java, job creation schemes have been operating in more than 30 regencies since the start of September.

Central Java administration spokesman Agus Utomo said on Wednesday that the projects undertaken as part of these schemes included the renovation of irrigation canals and the construction of other types of physical infrastructure in the province.

More than Rp 12 billion had been allocated for job creation schemes in the province, Utomo added.

He said the projects involved were being undertaken by the local agriculture office, the water resources office and the manpower office.

Utomo also said the provincial government had distributed around 3,640 tons of rice to villagers in 30 drought-hit regencies in Central Java and provided them with Rp 350 million in cash assistance.