Thu, 11 Mar 1999

BMG predicts a 'wet' dry season

JAKARTA (JP): While some areas in Indonesia may suffer from drought, good harvests can be expected as most parts of the country will see enough rain during this year's regular 'dry' season, the state-run Meteorology and Geophysics Agency (BMG)'s predicts.

In a news conference presenting the agency's biannual weather forecast here on Wednesday, BMG head Sri Diharto said it was unlikely the El Nino-aggravated drought affecting the country in 1997 would return this year.

However, he warned against mass land clearance through burning in areas mainly forecast to have longer spells of drought.

"There is a latent threat of forest fires... let's not give neighboring countries reasons to criticize us any more," Diharto pleaded.

These fire-prone areas, according to the agency, are areas with below average precipitation, such as Tanjung Jabung and Kampar regencies in the eastern part of Riau and Pasir regency in the eastern part of South Kalimantan.

Riau is just across from Singapore -- the island-state worst affected by smog originating from Indonesian forest fires in 1997. The two neighbors are separated by the Straits of Malacca.

The three regencies above are among nine areas -- out of 39 outside Java covered by the forecast -- predicted to see the beginning of the dry season as early as mid March, thus making for a longer drought.

The 1997 forest fires cost Indonesia over one million hectares of forest and drew fierce criticisms from several neighboring countries.

Diharto said that despite the warning, the agency expected to see a relatively bright dry season, but with some rain.

"It's going to be 'wet' dry season for Indonesia," Diharto said, adding that this was an effect of the global La Nina weather phenomenon now underway until June or July according to climatologists.

La Nina is the reverse of El Nino, the weather phenomenon that caused widespread drought in 1997. La Nina is caused by the unusual cooling of the Pacific Ocean that often follows the uncommonly warm temperatures which characterize El Nino.

More rice

The relatively rainy dry season, according to Irsal Las of the Indonesian Agricultural Meteorology Association (Perhimpi), would enable the country to produce more rice.

Paddy planting can be done up to three times through intensification programs that make use of the good weather, according to Irsal.

When asked if the Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS) estimate of increased rice output had taken the favorable weather factor into account, Diharto replied in the affirmative. BPS said on Monday that Indonesia's unhusked rice production would increase slightly to 48.66 million metric tons this year from 46.44 million tons last year.

The bureau also predicted increased harvests of several other crops, including corn, soybeans, green beans, peanuts, potatoes and cassava.

On Wednesday, BMG said out of 63 areas in Java sampled for the forecast, 16 would see above average rainfall, 35 would register average and 12 would be below average.

In Java, most areas traditionally known as the country's rice bowls like West Java and East Java will enjoy enough rain. So will their counterparts in South Sulawesi.

Of 39 areas outside Java sampled, seven will see above average rainfall, 22 could expect average rainfall and 10 below average.

When it comes to the start of the dry season, the agency said it would range from as early as March to as late as July. In Java, the late arrival will be in the western part of South Sukabumi regency in West Java. While outside Java, it will be in Minahasa regency in North Sulawesi.

Further details regarding the information, to be updated on every fifth day of the month, are obtainable through BMG's website at (aan)