Sat, 23 Aug 2003

Drought forces fishermen off waters

The Jakarta Post, Indramayu/Semarang/Surabaya

The current severe drought has depleted the water volume of 13 rivers in the West Java regency of Indramayu, one of the areas hardest hit by the ongoing dry season, affecting about 8,000 fishermen who used to fish in the rivers.

Indramayu Regent Irianto M.S. Syafiuddin said on Friday that the fishermen had been forced to fish in the neighboring regency of Subang.

Another 1,300 fishermen in the regency have even stopped working over the past week as the ice they need to keep their catch fresh is no longer available.

A fisherman, Samir, said the ice producers could not meet the demand due to the critical drop in water volume in the Cimanuk river.

An employee of an ice maker, Mahmud Hidayat, said the company used to take 96,000 liters of water from Cimanuk river every day. The company has suspended operations, Mahmud said.

In Surabaya, the East Java administration is preparing to conduct cloud seeding in the province to raise the water level of local dams, which will help replenish the water supply to farmland and to tap water companies.

Governor Imam Utomo said on Friday the cloud seeding would be conducted sometime in October if the rainy season did not come.

"If by October we still have no rain, we will carry out the cloud seeding," he said.

The provincial administration has also distributed water tanks to areas severely hit by the drought.

In Demak, Central Java, visiting agriculture minister Bungaran Saragih said the national rice stock would be sufficient despite crop failure in some areas of the rice belt in Java.

"We know that crop failure has hit 90,000 hectares of farmland in Java, but outside Java, agricultural land has increased by 420,000 hectares.

"Therefore, the national rice stock will remain at a safe level," he said.

According to him, the present rice output will increase from that of last year, but he did not elaborate.

"What we should do now is focus on how to help farmers whose land is affected by the drought," he said.

This year's drought is the worst yet since the 1997 drought that caused forest fires and rendered farmland unworkable.

The government estimated that this year's drought would leave some 250,000 farmers unable to work their land.

Therefore, the government will help the farmers by distributing free rice, and recruiting to repair irrigation canals.

The program is expected to start on Monday.