In October, when people walk by Times Square in New York City, they will notice a huge billboard that features a photograph of Indonesia’s Raja Ampat islands, accompanied by the words “escape to a magical place”. However, the attraction of the image conceals the utter poverty of the inhabitants of the islands.
A group of islands on the Bird’s Head peninsula of West Papua in Indonesia, Raja Ampat is one of the most beautiful diving destinations around the globe. It’s a beautiful and diverse marine environment that allows you to see vibrant tropical fish right before your naked eye from above the waters.
Formerly called Irian Jaya, the western part of the islands of Papua was occupied by Indonesia in the year 1961. The inhabitants of West Papua voted to become members of Indonesia in a widely debated referendum in the year 1969. In 2003, the territory was divided into two provinces, West Papua and Papua. However, they are usually called West Papua.
The country is experiencing a strong independence campaign throughout Papua, especially in the highlands. And the military and police frequently are able to repress rebels. However, the coastal region, which includes Raja Ampat, is politically stable and secure.
The islands are awash with natural beauty, making them seem like a paradise on Earth. However, of the over 45,000 inhabitants, 20 percent are living below the poverty level and have limited access to health care, education, and markets.
The data shows the fact that, in 2015, a family comprising four to five persons within Raja Ampat spent an average of USD 65 per month on food and other items of daily use. This is 10% more than what is the standard for the nation due to the high costs of living in these islands can be so costly.
It takes about eight hours to get to Raja Ampat from Indonesia’s capital Jakarta. From Jakarta, it is possible to take direct flights to Sorong or make a stop in Makassar, located on the island of Sulawesi between Java and Papua, before continuing your journey to Sorong situated on the northwest coast of Papua.
You then take an island ferry that takes you that takes you to Waigeo island (also called Amberi or Waigiu) Waigeo island is One of four principal islands islands that comprise the Raja-Ampat.
Waisai, the capital city of Raja Ampat, is located on Waigeo, the biggest island of the group. It is home to several cottages that are owned by elites of the local community. The majority of Raja Ampat’s administrative and government functions are located in Waisai. But the people are scattered over a number of islands.
As part of my research for my doctoral degree I spent a week in Mainyafun island, which is four hours away by boat from Waisai in April 2016. Mainyafun has families of 55, each household comprising between 9 to 12 people.
As with many towns of Raja Ampat, Mainyafun doesn’t have the facility for water treatment. Water that is clean and safe to drink is delivered from Waisai at least twice per month or every two months based on the time of year. People also take rainwater to drink. The mountain’s water is piped to the village centre however, it is a an extremely high mineral content.
There is no electricity or cell phone signal. Many people think of schooling to be “prestigious goods”, and students only have to finish the last year of primary school, which is the most advanced level for the people of this island.
To go on to higher education after elementary, students in Manyaifun need to travel to Waisai. The cost is $100 one way, and takes about four hours on a fibreglass boat which is usually with no safety equipment.
Living off scraps
As a region that is brimming with fish, the majority of inhabitants of the island make a livelihoods as fisherman. However, a large portion of them are still living in extreme poverty. The majority of families owe the proprietor of the local mini shop who sells basic goods.
The cost of the fish that they sell are so affordable that when they catch ten kilograms of fish each day, they will still are losing money. Fishermen require five liters of fuel per day to run their boats, which are small. However, fuel is in short supply and costly, and five litres cost US$12.50.
The fishers sell their catch to the Mainyafun collector, where they are processed in salted squid. The selling price maximum at Mainyafun is US$0.20 per kilogram, which means ten kilograms of fresh fish is about 2 dollars. After fuel costs, it’s the loss of US$10.50.
The majority of the islanders are fishermen who earn a living. Adam Howarth/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND
The cost of fish caught in Waisai is 10 times more expensive and 20 times more expensive in Sorong. However, fishermen in Mainyafun must sell their fish as soon as they can since there’s no electricity available to run cold storage.
The need for bigger boats, less fuel, and accessibility to Waisai as well as Sorong markets to obtain the best value for their catch. However, a boat that is decent and has an engine capable of carrying an enormous amount of fish is more than US$10,000, making it difficult to pay for.
Health care is not provided
There’s a tiny public clinic for community health in Manyaifun. There’s only one nurse and doctor who operate there are responsible for seven sub-districts spread across neighbouring islands.
The working conditions are tough. A lot people they treat are fishermen who leave their home early in the morning at 5 am and return by after five. Health professionals must be ready throughout the day.
The most frequently encountered problems are respiratory illnesses and skin infections. Birth-related deaths are typical for women. The most basic of medicines are available at the clinic and, sometimes, the stock is very limited.
Living on a remote island without a phone signal can be dangerous for health professionals as well as those they care for. Patients in need of emergency treatment, such as chronic malaria, usually die. The only hospital equipped with good equipment is in the city of Sorong, located 135 kilometers away.