Tue, 05 Aug 2003

Govt warns of peak in severe drought this month

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

This year's drought, which peaks this month, is likely to be more severe than last year's, with equally severe consequences, government officials have warned.

"We urge people to save water in anticipation of water shortages," Meteorology and Geophysics Agency (BMG) forecasting and services subdivision chief Achmad Zakir told The Jakarta Post on Monday, adding that the severe drought would particularly hit provinces south of the equator this year.

The equator runs from west to east, crossing Sumatra just north of the town of Payakumbuh, to Pontianak in Kalimantan and on to a point just to the north of Manokwari, Papua. Java and Bali, as well as the Nusa Tenggara islands all lie to the south of the equator.

Most parts of Banten in West Java, Central Java, eastern parts of East Java, most of West Nusa Tenggara and East Nusa Tenggara were among the provinces hardest hit by the drought, Zakir said.

He said this year's drought to the south of the equator was more severe than last year's due to very strong, dry winds from Australia.

"We have seen hardly any rainfall in the last four months, and when it has fallen, it has only lasted 10 minutes," he said.

Zakir also said temperature would increase to 33 to 34 degrees Celsius, from 31 to 32 degrees in the normal dry season.

Zakir urged local governments in rural areas to start building small dams to hold falling rain in the upcoming rainy season. The dry season normally runs from April to October, while the rainy season is from November to March.

Health officials have warned of stomach, skin and respiratory diseases, all of which commonly break out in the dry season.

In the Central Java capital city, Semarang, patients with respiratory problems at Karyadi Hospital have increased to 20 per day, from only five to six under normal circumstances, Antara reported on Monday.

"People must also be aware of diarrhea, skin diseases, eye irritation and respiratory problems," Director General of Communicable Disease Eradication Umar Fahmi Ismail said.

State electricity company (PLN) spokesman Muljo Adji said that the drought would affect PLN's 18,608-megawatt (MW) power supply in the Java-Bali interconnected grid, but alternating blackouts were not anticipated.

The hydropower plants in Java and Bali produced 2,536 MW, or about 14 percent of the two island's total power supply; reductions in generating capacity from these sources would be covered by others like gas- and coal-fired power plants, he said.

As of July, drought had affected 80,679 hectares of paddy field in 29 regencies or municipalities in Central Java, head of the Central Java Agricultural Agency Soekarno said.

Some 16,465 hectares of affected paddy field had suffered crop failure, he added.

Central Java has about 1.6 million hectares of paddy fields and is expected to produce 8.46 million tons of rice this year.

The Post reported over the weekend that in Gunung Kidul, Yogyakarta, drought had hit 94,000 people as they could not afford to buy potable water.

In Kulonprogo regency, the water shortage has reached 18 villages in the districts of Kokap, Girimulyo, Kali Bawang and Samigaluh. The villages are situated on Menoreh mountain.

In the West Java regency, Cirebon, drought has substantially reduced the tap water supply to 3,000 houses, with customers in Kapetakan, Gegesik, Arjawinangun and Beber districts being worst affected.

In Sukabumi, West Java, several farmers said on Sunday they were still able to harvest rice and corn, but were unable to continue planting their fields due to the severe drought.