Wed, 09 Jul 2003

Seven regencies face water shortages as springs dry

Nana Rukmana, The Jakarta Post, Cirebon, West Java

Seven regencies in West Java are facing water shortages due to severe environmental damage around Mount Ciremai and the dry season.

Kuningan Regency development planning agency head Imam Suwangka said there were at least 430 springs around Mount Ciremai in 1998, but springs now only numbered 156.

"During the five-year period, the number of water sources on Mount Ciremai decreased by 274 ... because the forest on the mountain has been seriously damaged," he said Tuesday.

Imam said the lack of water sources had significantly affected water supplies in Kuningan and the neighboring regencies of Cirebon, Indramayu and Majalengka.

Water supplies to the regencies of Brebes and Tegal, which usually used water from the mountain to irrigate farmland, were also affected, he said.

Correspondingly, there has been a sharp reduction in water levels at the Darma Dam, Kuningan.

The city's largest reservoir normally holds up to 30 million cubic meters of water but current levels were less than 20 million cubic meters of water.

University of Kuningan forestry researcher Slamet Wastra blamed the situation on environmental damage.

The damage covered more than 20 percent of the total 8,975 hectares of forest, mostly in Kuningan, he said.

Slamet said the damage was largely caused by illegal logging, excavation, land clearance and natural factors, including the dry season.

"The case should get serious attention from relevant authorities because not only is the forest a important income source for local villagers, but it also supplies clean water to the regencies nearby."

Imam said that in order to stop the destruction, the Kuningan administration had issued a new bylaw banning the clearance of land and excavation on the mountain.

"The bylaw also reaffirms the change of the forest's economic function from production forest to protected forest. We will soon meet the forestry minister to push for stronger regulations in order to save Ciremai Forest from further destruction."

Imam said the local administration had been campaigning for a reforestation program involving government agencies, students, non-governmental organizations and locals.