Thu, 18 Sep 2003

Farmers to bear the brunt of water resource bill

Muninggar Sri Saraswati and Sri Wahyuni, The Jakarta Post, Karawang/Yogyakarta

A group of farmers from one of Java island's premier rice-growing areas expressed their opposition to the water resources bill currently being deliberated by the House of Representatives, saying it would make their lives even more difficult.

Abdul Arief, the secretary-general of the Karawang Farmers Council, said the farmers were not getting enough irrigation water as most was being allocated to industry and urban dwellers in Jakarta.

The Jatiluhur reservoir supplies water to the Karawang irrigation system. Agriculture in the area is greatly dependent on irrigation.

"Don't neglect the farmers any longer. We have no more money to pay for water," he said on Wednesday.

Karawang, one of major rice producing areas in the country, is located some 100 kilometers east of Jakarta.

"According to the weather forecasters, this year's dry season will not be as prolonged as that in 1997 as there is no El Nino phenomenon at work. But how come there is not enough water to irrigate all the farmland around here?" he asked.

In 1997, most farmers in Karawang were unable to plant their crops due to a severe drought.

According to the latest official data from the administration, some 22,000 out of the 86,067 hectares of farmland in the area are faced with water shortages. While some 8,000 hectares of crops were almost certain to fail, Arief said this figure could yet double.

"Why should we suffer for the sake of Jakarta and the industrial sector?" Arief asked.

The controversy over the bill centers on the possibility of the private sector gaining control of water resources, and widespread fears that this could threaten public access to water.

Separately, the Association of Indonesian Farmers and Fishermen (HKTI) called for a revision of the bill, saying it failed to protect the agricultural sector.

HKTI chairman Siswono Yudohusodo said that he was concerned by the fact that there was not a special chapter in the bill devoted to water for agriculture and irrigation.

"As a result, as far as I can see from the draft, water will be simply regarded as a commodity, whether for agricultural, industrial or other purposes," he said in Yogyakarta.

Siswono said a revision was essential so as to guarantee clean and affordable water for all Indonesian citizens.

However, the HKTI realized the need for a law on water resources due to the fact that available water supplies would not be able to meet the constantly increasing demand.

Several non-governmental organizations, as well as some experts, have criticized the bill as benefiting the private sector more than the public.

The House is expected to endorse the bill on Sept. 23 despite the protracted controversy.