Food so short in Indonesia that president asks citizens to fast twice a
JAKARTA, Indonesia -- With millions of impoverished people facing food
shortages, President B.J. Habibie asked Indonesians to fast twice a week to save badly needed rice.
Habibie made the emergency appeal to Indonesia's 200 million people in a
nationally televised speech Sunday before celebrations to mark the birthday of Islam's founder, the prophet Muhammad.
Indonesia faces perhaps the most critical phase of a yearlong economic
crisis in the months ahead, with aid workers warning that tens of millions of people are sinking below the poverty line and can't afford to eat.
"I want to appeal to the people at this time of crisis. I think we had
better use the system used by many religions," Habibie said, appealing to people to fast during daylight every Monday and Thursday.
"If 150 million Indonesians do this, the country can save three million tons of rice a year, the same amount that the country has to import," he said.
Rice is a staple in Indonesia, where many harvests were wiped out in 1997
and earlier this year by the worst drought in 50 years.
Foreign governments are providing food aid to economically stricken
Indonesia, and the International Monetary Fund is leading a $43 billion bailout for the Southeast Asian nation.
However, the IMF program has been held up by recent political turmoil that
led to the resignation of authoritarian President Suharto in May.
Earlier Sunday, tens of thousands of Muslims gathered on the grounds of a
Jakarta sports complex for a mass prayer, many weeping as they appealed for an end to Indonesia's economic gloom.