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Indonesia: Of Rice & Rats

2 minute read

During Ramadan, the Moslem month of fasting, no believer is supposed to take food or drink from sunrise to sunset. But as Ramadan ended, the religious fasting in large parts of Indonesia had become full-scale famine. Parched by drought, the rice crop in Java had failed; in Bali, last year’s eruption of the Gunung Agung volcano had buried two of the island’s largest rice areas under volcanic ash. In central Java, an invasion of rats, many 18 inches long from head to tail, had decimated rice stores and created a serious threat of bubonic plague; in east Java, local extermination campaigns have already accounted for the death of 7,000,000 rats.

Nearly 1,000,000 people were on a starvation diet in Java; scores have already died of malnutrition. Peasant villages emptied as food supplies dwindled, and native families poured into already overcrowded cities. In Surabaya, Indonesia’s third largest city, 75,000 beggars roamed the streets; half-naked children, five and six years old, begged for parents too weak to walk the pavements themselves.

The famine has been compounded by President Sukarno’s economic boycott of neighboring Malaysia, which is a major rice supplier. Shortages have boosted rice prices 100% in the past six months, and so much of the Indonesian economy is tied up in Sukarno’s military harassment of Malaysia that almost no cash is available to buy rice on the world market. Sukarno’s dilemma is that a retreat from the anti-Malaysia campaign would only focus his people’s attention on their bleak plight and encourage Indonesia’s Communist Party, which is presently excludedfrom his government, to become more politically active.

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