This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.
As is the situation in many other countries, Indonesia’s poor are bearing the brunt of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Many Indonesians have been struggling to put food on the table, with some forgoing nourishment for days at a time. Now, the government is facing criticism for intervening too late in one family’s dire situation.
On April 20, reports of the death of Yulie Nuramelia, 43, made headlines because it happened after she asked for help on national TV, saying that her family had not eaten in days.
A day before her death, Nuramelia, a mother of four from Serang, Indonesia, sobbed as she told reporters in a broadcast that her family had not eaten in two days. She also said that they had applied for government assistance, but had not received any help, even though the Serang government launched a stimulus programme for 56,000 families in the region.
This prompted an outcry regarding the government’s allocation of aid for vulnerable citizens, pushing the government to intervene and send aid to Nuramelia’s family. However, despite video testimonies and accounts of other families experiencing something similar, some officials were still suspicious of Nuramelia's story.
“I do not believe that she did not eat for two days,” Dedi Sudrajat, head of the sub-district where Nuramelia lived, told local media a day after Nuramelia’s death.
Serang Mayor Syafrudin, also denied media claims that Nuramelia died of starvation.
“Mrs. Yulie’s death was not due to a lack of food, it was simply fate,” he told reporters on April 21. “It doesn’t make sense, because there were fried bananas and cassavas in her home.”
However, Rochman Setiawan, a volunteer who delivered aid to Nuramelia’s home on the day she died, believes that Nuramelia’s family was indeed starving.
“Anyone who says that the family wasn’t starving is lying. When I brought them bread, her children instantly devoured it. I was shocked to learn that their mother had passed away,” Setiawan told local media.
Muhammad Holik, Nuramelia’s husband, said that his wife fell unconscious on the afternoon of April 20, and later died on her way to a local clinic. Doctors said that in her weakened condition, Nuramelia had suffered a heart attack.
Both Nuramelia and Holik were out of work in the weeks leading up to her death. Nuramelia was a wage worker, while her husband worked as a plastic waste collector. Together, they earned Rp20,000 to Rp25,000 ($1.28 to $1.60) per day, but even that disappeared after a partial lockdown was enforced on April 10. Their secondary school-aged children dropped out of school due to a lack of funds.
“We used to have enough money to at least buy rice. But not since the pandemic,” Nuramelia told local media before she died, on April 18.
Nuramelia is not the only Indonesian struggling to make ends meet. In Medan, North Sumatra, a 40-year-old man named Atek stole rice on April 19 out of desperation.
“I had no choice but to steal the rice because I could not stand the hunger. I received 5 kilograms of rice from the government, but I sent it to my wife and children, who have been living with my in-laws,” Atek told local media.
The financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic has pushed individuals across Asia to take desperate measures.
A 20-year old Thai man named Chayapol Addin turned himself in to Phuket police for having a single methamphetamine pill, asking to be jailed. Addin had recently lost his job and admitted that he preferred jail, where he would receive three meals a day, over unemployment. He has since been charged with drug possession, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
In India, lack of money and food reportedly drove a woman named Manju to throw herself and her five young children into the Ganges river. Her five children drowned, but Manju allegedly changed her mind and managed to escape the river.