RI prepares for worst as El NiÃ±o causes prolonged dry season
Suherdjoko and Hans Nicholas Jong
The Jakarta Post
The government has confirmed that over 9,000 hectares (ha) of rice fields in six provinces have experienced harvest failure over the past few months as it warns that this year's dry season has not yet reached its peak.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, the Public Works and Public Housing Ministry's director general of water resources, Mudjiadi, said the crop failure had so far hit 4,364 ha of rice fields within the government-designated irrigation system and 4,735 ha of rain-dependent fields.
'Based on our data, harvest failure has been reported in 1,570 ha of rice fields within existing irrigation networks in South Sulawesi, 319 ha in Central Kalimantan, 2,285 ha in West Java and 190 ha in Lampung. Similar conditions have occurred in 564 ha of rain-dependent fields in East Java and 4,171 ha in Central Java,' Mudjiadi said during a visit to Kedung Ombo Reservoir in Grobogan regency, Central Java.
Rice is Indonesia's main staple food. Last year, the country, through the State Logistics Agency (Bulog), imported at least 425,000 tons of rice from Thailand and Vietnam to help meet the demand for rice across the archipelago.
During the past several weeks, farmers in many regions in the country have reported difficulties in providing sufficient irrigation for their crops due to the long absence of rain, which has been triggered by the so-called El NiÃ±o weather phenomenon.
Public Works and Public Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono, meanwhile, said the ministry had taken several measures to curb the impact of this year's prolonged dry season on the agriculture sector, including by minimizing leaks in existing irrigation networks, reviewing the farmers' planting patterns and channeling water for irrigation in a roster system.
The ministry, he said, had also helped the worst-hit regions by providing water pumps and dropping off clean water from trucks.
'For medium-term solutions, the ministry is also working to accelerate the completion of 13 new reservoirs spread across 10 provinces by 2015,' he said.
The government aims to complete the construction of 65 dams across the country, consisting of 49 new dams and 16 continuation projects, by 2019. The existing 209 dams have a total capacity of 12.56 billion cubic meters, which is expected to increase to 6.75 billion with the new dams.
On Saturday, the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) climate spokesperson, Evi Lutfiati, said this year's El NiÃ±o would reach its peak in October, matching the intensity of the El NiÃ±o in 1997, which induced a prolonged drought and triggered widespread fires.
'We're predicting the index to reach 2.4 in October and decline slightly to 2.2 in December, but that's still considered as strong intensity,' she told The Jakarta Post, referring to an index on the El NiÃ±o phenomenon called the El NiÃ±o-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) index.
El NiÃ±o is a weather phenomenon associated with a band of warm ocean water that develops in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean causing a significant reduction in Indonesian rainfall.
As many as 16 out of 34 provinces in the country are currently experiencing drought, according to data from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).
The prolonged dry season also affects people's health, as it has triggered widespread land and forest fires in many areas of the country over the past several weeks, according to Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) chairman Abetnego Tarigan.
'Our water consumption will definitely decline as well as the quality of the water that we consume. Moreover, our brothers and sisters in Riau, Jambi and Kalimantan will be affected by haze. So health is a serious effect [of El NiÃ±o] that has to be tackled,' he said.
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