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Saturday April 21, 2007

In the past week the Indonesian islands experienced, what meteorologists call: “a weather pattern anomaly”. Normally, May would be the beginning of the dry season and the start of the grand rice harvest on land, and fish catch at sea. But not so today. Hot oppressive weather has been alternating with sudden downpours drenching most islands. These storms are punctuated by loud thunderbolts and angry lightning, often accompanied by whirlwinds, uprooting trees and flooding towns and countryside. Hillsides are eroded, obstructing main intercity arterial roads, destroying bridges and blocking traffic.

Since Thursday and over the weekend, sudden tidal swells of between two to seven meters high waves have pounded the coasts of 11 provinces on Java, Bali and Sumatra that face the Indian Ocean, catching both fishermen and holiday-makers by complete surprise. Although no casualties have so far been reported, but Kompas daily writes that at least 300 houses, 80 cafes, and 400 fishing boats have been swept away to sea by the high waves. Fishermen have also been wary to set out to sea.
The Met has warned that such tidal waves may be expected for another four days. But the Research Board, Bakorsutanas, has alerted that coastal communities should prepare themselves for more of such phenomenon well into June.  

What is happening? Why these sudden out-of-season storms that have rarely been experienced with such violence before?

Experts seem to differ on the reasons. The Meteorology and Geophysical Agency, BMG, explained that fluctuating and inconsistent temperatures across the archipelago have caused rain clouds to accumulate in areas of Kalimantan, Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi resulting in heavy rains here, indicating conditions to a La Nina which causes a prolonged rainy season over parts of Indonesia. 

While, Head of the Centre for Oceanographic studies, Harsono, told Kompas that more in depth studies need to be made to identify the exact cause why Indonesia is undergoing such inconsistent weather patterns today. In 1983, Harsono continued, when the sea surface around Indonesian waters rose 4 degrees Centigrade, the warm currents streamed south from the China Sea to Java and Bali, causing 90% of coral reefs here to die. However, today, the sea surface is neither extremely warm nor cold, so that there must be another reason for the extended rainy season.

As to the high tidal waves, BMG attributes these to a perfect celestial alignment between the sun, the moon and the earth that pulls up the tides. But, BMG concedes, that although this is not unusual, tidal waves have never reached such heights before.  
Whatever the reasons, “Indonesia must adapt and prepare ourselves for the impacts of Climate Change”, said Prof. Emil Salim, Indonesia’s expert on the Environment and former Minister for the Environment. “If not, this nation will face serious food shortages”, reports Kompas daily. 
“Indeed, although climate change is predicted to occur after 2030”, said Prof. Emil Salim, “yet even today we already experience its harbinger. The present weather anomaly has resulted in delays to the planting of rice, the appearance of various plant pests, and delayed harvests or even failed crops”.

Indonesia’s efforts to become self-sufficient in rice production will come into jeopardy, said Prof. Salim, since anomaly in weather patterns has caused water supply for irrigation to reduce, while rice culture needs plenty of irrigation.

In a seminar on the Bill of Sustainable Food Production last April, the audience was informed that by 2030, Indonesia is predicted to need 59 million tons of rice per year to feed the increasing number of its population, which by that time is expected to reach 425 million. Whereas, in 2007, total production is estimated to reach some 32.96 million tons only.

As the acreage of rice fields now extends only a total of 11.6 million hectares, further expansion with another 11.8 million hectares is needed to increase rice production. Whilst, in fact during the past 10 years (1992-2004) rice fields have continued to be converted at an average rate of 110,000 hectares per year. This occurred especially on Java, where 58.3% of rice fields had been converted to human settlements and industry.
Therefore, to ensure sustainable food production, Indonesia must follow three strategies, said Prof. Emil Salim. Firstly we must urgently increase agricultural land; secondly, we must diversify staple food consumption, and thirdly, strong seedlings must be developed to withstand weather anomalies. Furthermore, Climate Change will not only impact on rice production, but also the production of palm oil and sugar cane since both require plenty of water.

It is most important that such actions are taken especially on the island of Java, where Java’s soil is known to be four times more fertile than Sumatra’s, and six times more fertile than on Kalimantan. The government must, therefore, halt continued construction on Java that will cause the entire expanse of Java to grow into one large city, said Prof. Emil Salim. Over half of Indonesia’s population of more than 200 million people lives on the island of Java alone.  

More Rainstorms, but Less Water for Irrigation

Confirming the opinion of Prof. Emil Salim, Minister for Research and Technology, Kusmayanto Kadiman, said that Climate Change will impact negatively on the supply of water in dams and reservoirs, in water-catchment areas and river basins on Java, which today are already in poor condition. To ensure sustainable food supply this depends vitally on a better irrigation system, especially since water supply is declining. Therefore, both an improved irrigation infrastructure as well as better management of water-catchment areas and river basins are now most urgent, said Minister Kusmayanto.

For, continued Kusmayanto, although parts of Indonesia today experience an extended rainy season, however, these rains are not falling in areas and rivers that feed the dams. Today’s rains fall along the northern coast of Java, whereas, dams that rely on water supplied by rivers are located in the south along Java’s mountainous regions. And, although artificial rains may increase water supply, these are still far from sufficient when compared to total need.

Another important factor to ensure sustainable supply of food and especially in the production of rice, is an effective information system for rice farmers, since rice is Indonesia’s staple food, said Rizaldi Boer, Head of the Climatology Lab of the Agricultural Institute in Bogor. Until today farmers must depend solely on their traditional knowledge and experience of planting seasons. But, as weather patterns change, our mostly traditional small farmers have suffered huge losses in seedlings and crops.


Indonesia’s clean water-providing rivers are polluted by organic and chemical waste
Commemorating the International World Water Day on 22 March, FAO Director General, Jacques Diouf, said that the world now uses twice as much water compared to a century ago, but its availability is depleting. As a result, 40 percent of the world’s population suffers from water scarcity. Water scarcity impacts negatively on many sectors, including on world health. To cope with water scarcity, therefore, Jacques Diaouf calls on all countries that they support with political and moral will to ensure access to clean water for some 1.1 billion people of the world, and to provide proper sanitation for more than 1.5 billion of the world’s population. 

In Indonesia, Yuni Ikawati writes in Kompas, that 100 million people, or almost half of Indonesia’s population has no access to clean water, especially on the islands of Java, Bali, West and East Nusatenggara and in South Sulawesi.

The Task Force on Drinking Water and Environmental safety in Indonesia said that data of the year 2000 indicate that on Java there was available only 1,750 cu. meter per capita per year, and this will decline to 1,200 cu. meter/annum in 2020. Whereas, the minimum requirement per capita is 2,000 cu. meter of water per year.  

In Indonesia, water scarcity is exacerbated by river pollution. The Ministry of Environment estimates that 60 percent of rivers, especially on Sumatra, Java, Bali and Sulawesi are polluted by organic waste rife with coliform and fecal coli bacteria, which are the major cause for diarrhea, - and by chemical waste. The neglect in water management here has placed Indonesia at the bottom rung in the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s), at a level with Bangladesh, Mongolia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines.

And as regards irrigation especially for rice planting by small farmers, Jacques Diouf said that new, more modern means must be found to overcome more effectively the scarcity of water.

Using the conventional system, 3,000 liters of water is needed to produce one kilogram of rice, said Hehanusa of the Indonesian Institute for Sciences, LIPI.

As Indonesia comprises mostly of seas, with only 30 percent in land area, Indonesia must ensure that clean water is available in adequate quantities. Nowadays, though, because of destructions in the environment as well as because of climate change, less water falls on land. Therefore, to ensure the continued availability of clean water for all, priority must, be given to the proper management especially of river basins and rivers that cross a number of provinces, such as the Ciliwung, Cisadane, Catarum, Citanduy, Progo, and Bengawan Solo rivers on the island of Java, and the Siak and Kampar rivers on Sumatra.  

 (Sources: Kompas)        (Tuti Sunario)