Tue, 19 Aug 2003

Dry season spurs dispute over water supply in Java

Nana Rukmana, The Jakarta Post, Cirebon, West Java

The prolonged dry season has forced farmers to obtain water illegally to irrigate their farmlands in attempts to avoid crop failure, prompting disputes over water distribution.

In West Java, the Indramayu and Majalengka administrations deployed security forces over the weekend to prevent the theft of water by local farmers along the Cimanuk river.

The river runs alongside the border of the Indramayu and Majalengka regencies.

An official of the Indramayu irrigation office said that the action was taken after the local administration found some 60 water pumps at locations along the riverbank, allegedly used by local farmers to irrigate rice fields.

The administration prioritizes that the water is for household/tap use, he added.

As many as 40,000 hectares of rice fields have suffered crop failure in West Java. About half of the farmland is located in Indramayu, known as one of the main rice producers for West Java and Jakarta.

The government has announced that the drought has affected 300,000 hectares of rice fields across the country.

A similar dispute over water earlier arose between Central and East Java.

The East Java administration blamed the Central Java government for the siphoning of water from the Bengawan Solo river.

The river crosses the border, and is the main water source, of both provinces.

The East Java administration says the alleged theft -- which occurred in the border areas of Sragen and Ngawi -- has threatened crops.

Water supplies from several major dams in Java have also declined due to water shortages.

The State Ministry of the Environment has predicted that this month rainfall will reach only 24 millimeters, from 55 millimeters in August last year.

Rainfall in September is expected to match this August's, down from 53 millimeters in September 2002.

The State Minister of the Environment, Nabiel Makarim, called on provinces to cooperate in carrying out national reforestation programs to prevent the annual drought.

He said the destruction of forests has continued unchecked, as they have been exploited for short-term commercial purposes, through illegal logging and widespread land clearing.

"The regional autonomy is not an opportunity for selfishness," the minister said, during a visit to Indramayu over the weekend to see the impact of the drought.

The Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare, Jusuf Kalla, cited the destruction of forests as the major cause of the drought in Java.

"No more exploitation of forests in Java!" Said Kalla, who also took part in Saturday's visit.

The government recently banned the exploitation of forests for commercial purposes in Java, including that of state-owned forestry company Perum Perhutani.

During the visit, Kalla announced the government's plan to import more rice in the near future, to anticipate the national problem of food shortages, linked to the severe drought.

He said, the government has yet to calculate the amount of imported rice needed to supplement Java's supply.

The government also hopes to supply clean water for villagers and provide jobs for farmers suffering due to crop failure, Kalla said.

Also on the agenda are plans to sell cheap rice known as raskin to villagers, and to renovate irrigation channels in September in a bid to overcome the impacts of the drought, he added.