Indonesian state news agency Antara reported that the El Nino weather phenomenon has begun to affect several parts of the country. El Nino, which occurs once every five years on average, causes climatic changes across the Pacific Ocean leading to droughts in Southeast Asia and therefore has a major impact on harvests of agricultural commodities. Moreover, due to the shortage of rain, it is easier for fires to damage the environment. Antara reported that in Banten (West Java) as well as in Riau and Jambi (Sumatra) these effects are felt.
Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Office said the weather conditions are expected to deteriorate into October. Apart from failed harvests and forest fires, a strong El Nino can also lead to an outbreak of dengue fever. Previously, meteorology agencies in the USA, Japan and Australia had already warned that there could be a strong El Nino this year. However, it is never really clear when - and to what extent - El Nino will be felt. For example, last year the world’s main meteorologist agencies announced that a strong El Nino was bound to occur later in 2014. However, this turned out to be false alarms.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo expressed that current rising alarms about a strong El Nino this year should be taken seriously in order to safeguard the country’s food security (and avert a sudden jump in poverty). Based on his advisers, Widodo expects the El Nino weather phenomenon to become stronger between August and December. In early May 2015, droughts were already felt in Java, Lampung (Sumatra), Bali and East Nusa Tenggara and therefore he instructed several ministers to monitor the situation and implement policies to mitigate the damage. The government has set aside IDR 880 billion (USD $65 million) to combat El Nino this year.
Indonesia’s National Disaster Control Agency (BNPB) recorded drought in at least 102 regencies in 16 provinces across the country. Reportedly, these areas have a deficit of 20 billion cubic meters of water. The hardest hit provinces are West Java, Central Java, East Java, Lampung, South Sumatra and Bali. In fact, even without the El Nino, many regions have difficulty to supply enough water to plantations due to damaged irrigation infrastructure. Therefore, the government is currently busy with several programs to boost agricultural output (including the construction of 1,000 water reservoirs).
Earlier Indonesian news agency Kompas reported that drought had hit roughly 111,000 hectares of rice fields in Indonesia in the January-July 2015 period. However, this was a better result than last year when 200,000 hectares of rice fields were damaged by drought in the same period. This year’s better performance was made possible due to the reparation of irrigation and the distribution of water pumps to farmers. However, Indonesia may need to import rice from Vietnam or Thailand this year in order to safeguard the country’s rice reserves.