Wed, 13 Aug 2003

People told to save water

Sari P. Setiogi and Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government is calling on the public, particularly in Jakarta, to avoid wasting water and to be prepared for sacrifices now that the country was feeling the full heat of the dry season.

On Tuesday, State Minister for the Environment Nabiel Makarim criticized the watering of gardens and washing of cars as examples of wasting water.

He said this year's dry season arrived earlier than predicted and could develop into a disaster if the dry season became prolonged.

"The drought will adversely affect water supplies to farmers as well as tap water customers, cause crop failures and increase the threat of forest fires," said Nabiel after a ministerial meeting presided over by Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Jusuf Kalla.

Separately, Roestam Sjarief, the director for water resources at the Ministry of Resettlement and Regional Infrastructure, told The Jakarta Post that local governments had been called on to take emergency measures by providing water pumps for areas suffering serious water shortages.

According to Roestam, the central and local governments had allocated Rp 1.7 billion from the state budget and local budgets to provide the water pumps.

A special humanitarian fund would also be set up to provide aid if people started to suffer from food shortages or other difficulties as a result of the drought, according to Kalla.

"At the moment, people still have rice. We predict the drought will peak in September," Kalla said, adding that the amount of the fund had still to be decided.

Roestam said the government would prioritize the allocation of water in reservoirs for tap water and irrigation purposes, rather than electricity generation.

According to Roestam, he had asked state-owned electricity firm PT PLN to accept such a plan as tap water and irrigation water were essential for the well-being of the majority of the population.

"That is our basic policy as the 1974 Water Law mandates that water should be first used for tap water purposes rather than other needs," he told the Post.

The water volume in two reservoirs in West Java -- the Darma reservoir in Kuningan district and the Bendung Rentang reservoir in Majalengka district, has dropped by 70 percent.

They are both main water sources for irrigated agricultural land along the north coast of West Java.

Nabiel said cloud seeding was being considered, except for the Jakarta area, where the skies had been cloudless recently.

The first rain in Jakarta is expected to fall in November.

Separately, the drought is affecting 150,000 hectares of farmland in West Java, 48,000 hectares in Central Java and 15,000 hectares in East Java.

"These figures are interesting as West Java has more water than East Java, but West Java is suffering the most from the severe drought," said Roestam.

"This is because the West Java farmers speculated by trying to grow rice through the dry season. Therefore, it is no wonder that their fields have now dried up."

The director of the agriculture and food security agency in Lampung, Masdulhaq, said crops had failed in Lampung over some 20,000 hectares. He said the figure might eventually reach 40,000 hectares.

In Central Java alone, the losses due to the drought have reached about Rp 84.5 billion (US$9.91 million),

Nabiel said his office had taken measures to prevent the sort of environmental damage that could result from the ongoing drought from occurring.

"Water pollution will be seriously monitored. Firms should not dispose of their liquid waste into watercourses at levels that are above the tolerable limits," said Nabiel.

"We will be stricter with industries that violate the regulations on water pollution. They will be brought directly to court if they are caught polluting rivers".