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Food flights continue in Papua

By November 28, 2011

Papua (MNN) — It hasn't been on television. Not even in newspapers or magazines. But people in Papua, Indonesia are suffering from famine. It hasn't been caused by the lack of rain, but by too much of it. Mission Aviation Fellowship works in Papua and they're doing something about it.

According to reports, thousands of people in 19 villages in Homeo District, Intan Jaya, Papua, are suffering from starvation. Member of Regional House of Representatives (DPRD) of Intan Jaya Regency, Thomas Sondegou, said famine has haunted the area for nearly four months.

MAF Pilot Dennis Bergstrazer says an expert agriculturalist from England living in the area, and many local villagers, have no recollection of such incredible rain levels in the past.

While Papua has rainy seasons and dry seasons, this year's rainy season was incredibly difficult. "Because of that, many of the gardens have flooded or actually slid off the mountains in some places from landslides and mudslides. If there isn't a little bit of dryness between the rains the vegetables in the gardens start to rot."

According to Bergstrazer, the rains have stopped, but the staple food, sweet potatoes, has been wiped out. "The folks have been in dire straits to get food, but fortunately we have been able to help them by bringing them rice. Logistically, it's been a little bit difficult. Once the food gets to the airstrips it still has to be hiked over the trails for hours at a time."

Churches and pastors are helping with that distribution. However, even that's a challenge. "They don't really have a place where they can stock-pile it, so we can't fly very much [food] in at any one given time. We have to divide it out over several months."

He says four tribes are most affected, "… the Moni, Wolani, Nduga, and Dani, and we get to them several times a week. Population wise there are approximately 55,000 people in this particular area and it's served by eight airstrips." One-third of the population is in serious need of food. The initial plan is to do three flights a week—one flight into each of the major valleys in the area.

Since local churches are delivering the aid, Bergstrazer says the Gospel is being shared. "They may live in the village I fly into, but throughout the week they're walking back and forth and going to the villages evangelizing, uplifting, teaching, and discipling." This is an opportunity to empower the church to be more relevant.

Bergstrazer is asking you to pray as a strike is causing issues. "It's curtailed us being able to get fuel for our airplanes. We have to fly one hour one way just to fill up the airplane with fuel. We could do about two and a half flights with that load of fuel."

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