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UN World Summit 14-16 September 2005 Indigenous people in Papua: Working out of poverty and promoting human security

Papua is one of the poorest provinces in Indonesia. The 2004 Indonesia Millennium Development Goals (MDG) report indicates that the percentage of people living below the national poverty line in Papua is 41.8 per cent, compared to 18.2 per cent for the whole country. Up to 74 per cent of the population are indigenous peoples, living in isolated areas with little access to social and economic facilities and services to fulfil their most basic needs. The ILO recently launched a three-year project to tackle poverty, discrimination and promote human security among indigenous peoples in the Indonesian province.

Article | 13 September 2005

JAKARTA (ILO on line) - The Papuan people are among the poorest in Indonesia, despite abundant mineral, oil, and gas reserves and rich marine and forest resources.

The high level of poverty in the province contrasts with the highest long-term GDP growth (between 1981 and 2002: 9.8 per cent) of all Indonesian provinces. However, the amount that actually remains in the province, equals only one third of the GDP, which shows the unequal distribution of Papua's wealth.

With an illiteracy rate of 49 per cent and an average annual income per family of below US$ 500, Papuans are among the most disadvantaged in the whole region facing inadequate income and employment opportunities. In addition, indigenous Papuans face widespread discrimination and exclusion from society. Most of the poor belong to one of the 250 different tribal groups in a population of 2.3 million, which gives Papua a uniquely diverse social and cultural character.

The participation of indigenous Papuans in the economy is still very limited. "Business sectors, whether categorized as 'formal' or 'informal' are more controlled by migrants", says the Governor of Papua, Jacobus Perviddya Solossa, in a report prepared as background to the Bill of Special Autonomy for Papua Province, adding that "the low participation of indigenous Papuans in the business sector is a significant factor causing social envy and negative expression, such as 'we are marginalized on our own land'…"

Empowerment of indigenous people to enable them to participate significantly in the economy has become an important aspect of the Bill of Special Autonomy. "The conflict in Papua has deep historical roots but one important factor that fuels tension and riots in the province is the low socio-economic position of indigenous Papuans compared to migrants from the crowded Indonesian island of Java that have moved to Papua over the last 30 years", explains Huseyin Polat from the ILO's Cooperative Branch.

The new ILO project "Promoting Human Security and Reducing Poverty among Indigenous Peoples in Papua" responds to the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in Papua, Indonesia. The project will primarily assist indigenous and migrant communities and local government agencies in Papua to reduce poverty and eliminate discrimination in employment and education, particularly among indigenous women and girls.

In addition, it will provide the indigenous communities with culturally-appropriate tools and methods to strengthen their capacities, aiming at creation of decent employment opportunities, sustainable livelihoods and income generation avenues. The project will also facilitate dialogue between indigenous communities, migrant population and local government, and thereby contribute to an improvement in the human security situation.

Project activities include improving access to credit, skills training and assistance in marketing to enable small enterprises and cooperatives to boost self-employment among the poor. This approach has been tested among indigenous communities in other countries by the ILO-INDISCO ( Note 1) Programme and will be adapted to the local situation in Papua throughout the project.

Two similar ILO projects on the Philippine island of Mindanao already played an important role in the peace process: "The projects strengthened government efforts to show real concern over the development needs of Muslim communities", comments Huseyin Polat.

Funded by the Government of Japan, which will provide US$ 1,537,965, the new project in Papua will work closely with the State Ministry for the Acceleration of Eastern Indonesia and other local organizations. It is part of the ILO's Decent Work Country Programme for Indonesia, which aims to promote opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.

Note 1 - Interregional Programme to Support Self-Reliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples through Cooperatives and Self-Help Organizations.