In a remote area of Papua, a box of instant noodles costs 2 grams of gold

Mining Area 33 is one of many traditional gold mining areas in Korowai, Pegunungan Bintang regency in Papua. A handout photo.
PHOTO: The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network

In a remote area of Papua's Pegunungan Bintang regency, purchasing staple commodities will put a far bigger dent in your wallet than in most other areas of Indonesia.

For a sack of rice, typically weighing 10 kilograms, people in the traditional gold mining area of Korowai have to spend at least Rp 2 million (S$190), similar to the cost of a low-end smartphone.

For comparison, in Jakarta, 1 kilogram of rice costs Rp 10,000 to Rp 11,000, meaning 10kg of rice costs people in the capital around Rp 110,000.

The massive price discrepancies are not limited to rice. A box of instant noodles costs Rp 1 million in Korowai. Sometimes, people even pay with two grams of gold.

“A pack of instant noodles costs Rp 25,000,” said Hengki Yaluwo, an administrator of a cooperative in Korowai's Mining Area 33 on Wednesday.

“Ten kilograms of rice costs four grams of gold. If you pay with cash, you need Rp 2 million,” he said.

One can of fish typically costs Rp 150,000, while a cell phone could cost 10 to 25 grams of gold, Hengki said.

Compared to other areas in the regency, Korowai is quite isolated and underdeveloped, though it is surrounded by five regencies: Pegunungan Bintang, Yahukimo, Asmat, Boven Digoel and Mappi.

Reaching Korowai is difficult. People must take a helicopter from Bovel Digoel regency, and then continue by longboat, traveling along the Boven Digoel river for one day. After this, they must travel by foot for two days before finally arriving at the Korowai mining area.

Ben Yarik, a Korowai resident, said the area was populated by members of the Korowai tribe – one of the indigenous ethnic groups in the country's easternmost region.

“For years, the government has not built anything in Korowai," Ben said, "It is God who has given us gold, so we can mine it to help us [live]."

Ben added that traditional mining was the main source of livelihood for the people of Korowai. He said he hoped the government would not shut down the mines as they provided a source of economic stability for the people.

“It’s sad. So many people are left behind, even though there is still plenty of gold,” he said as quoted by kompas.com.