1.4m hit as severe drought ravages crops in Indonesia

A villager collecting water from a river in Cibarusah in Indonesia's West Java province on Tuesday. The dry weather started last month and is expected to be at its worst next month and last until October.
A villager collecting water from a river in Cibarusah in Indonesia's West Java province on Tuesday. The dry weather started last month and is expected to be at its worst next month and last until October.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

A lingering drought in parts of Java and West Nusa Tenggara province is ravaging rice fields, drying up reservoirs and causing a shortage of clean water, directly affecting 1.4 million people.

The dry weather that started last month is expected to be at its worst next month and last until October, said Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for Indonesia's disaster management agency BNPB.

The government is distributing clean water to affected residents, he told The Straits Times, noting that this year's drought is much worse than last year's.

"In 2016, we had La Nina, so there was ample rain even during the dry season," he said.

La Nina, in contrast to El Nino, typically brings more rainfall to the region.

In Central Java, where the drought is worst, 310ha of rice fields have been affected.

That could have been more had the local government not trained farmers to better cope with changing weather conditions and switch to planting other crops that need less water, such as corn, soya bean, green bean and cucumber, said Mr Wrindri Atmono, head of the food crops protection department of Central Java.

"Farmers have been taught how to measure rainfall and can act early by switching from cultivating rice to other crops. We have also told the affected farmers to harvest early and sell their rice crops as animal feed. This is indeed better than letting the crops spoil and getting nothing," Mr Wrindri told The Straits Time by telephone.

TAKING MEASURES TO COPE

Farmers have been taught how to measure rainfall and can act early by switching from cultivating rice to other crops. We have also told the affected farmers to harvest early and sell their rice crops as animal feed. This is indeed better than letting the crops spoil and getting nothing.

MR WRINDRI ATMONO, head of Central Java's food crops protection department.

Rice fields typically need ample water for 110 days, while the other crops need half or less than half of that, he added.

Central Java province produces about 16 per cent of the nation's rice, while East Java and West Java each contribute about 17 per cent. South Sulawesi, North Sumatra, Lampung and South Sumatra provinces are also among the high rice output provinces.

Drought has been reported in West Java, Yogyakarta and West Nusa Tenggara provinces.

Although this year's drought is worse than those last year and in 2015, it has not been as bad as in 2014, when it took a toll on some 33,000ha of rice fields in Central Java, Mr Wrindri said.

"On average, each farmer has 0.2ha of land and each family consists of five people," he added.

Residents in Dukuh Lekong, Central Java, dug holes into the bed of a dried-up river as the absence of rain for two straight months has reduced the amount of clean water available.

Situ Gede reservoir in Tasikmalaya, West Java province, has also dried up, ravaging hundreds of rice fields, state news agency Antara reported.

At least three reservoirs in Central Java have dried up, while six others have extremely low water levels, cutting supplies of water for irrigation and for households, The Jakarta Post reported yesterday.

Mr Yadi, a farmer in Sumedang of West Java province, has avoided planting rice. The 39-year-old, who goes by one name, has resorted to cultivating cucumber, which requires much less watering, on his 1,400ha of land, Kompas daily reported yesterday.

Ms Gati, a resident of Cekel in Central Java, said a water well in her backyard has dried up in the past 11/2 months.

The 54-year-old, who cares for her three grandchildren because their parents work in the city, has had to walk 3km to a river to get water every day, Kompas reported.

For Ms Gati, even planting corn, which does not require abundant water, is not possible for the time being.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2017, with the headline '1.4m hit as severe drought ravages crops in Indonesia'. Print Edition | Subscribe