Indonesia: BMKG says El Niño worsening, inching toward 1997 level

The Jakarta Post 16 Sep 15;

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said on Tuesday that the El Niño weather phenomenon had become stronger this month and would likely intensify at the end of this year.

El Niño is the warm phase of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and is associated with a band of warm ocean water that develops in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean, causing a significant reduction in Indonesian rainfall.

According to BMKG meteorology deputy chairman Yunus Subagyo Swarinoto the current ENSO index has already hit 2.30, up 0.28 points from 2.02 last week.

However, according to BMKG data, that index is still below the peak in 1997, which was 2.59.

“We can see that El Niño tends to become stronger day by day,” Yunus said during his presentation at a meeting attended by Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar and governors of South Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, Central Kalimantan, West Kalimantan and South Kalimantan in Jakarta on Tuesday.

The meeting was to discuss actions taken by the governors to mitigate the intensified haze that has blanketed Sumatra and Kalimantan over the past few days.

The BMKG said that the current ENSO index had almost reached earlier predictions. In August 2015, the BMKG predicted that the ENSO index would increase to 2.4 by the end of the year.

Yunus said the worsening El Niño had left some regions in Indonesia without rain for more than 60 days.

“Java, West and East Nusa Tenggara and South Sulawesi will not get rain until November of this year,” he added.

However, the northern part of Sumatra has received light rain over the last five days.

Responding to the report, Luhut ordered the BMKG to share its climate change and rainfall data with all governors in the country.

“The data will tell the governors what they should do to mitigate disaster,” Luhut said, adding that the country’s climate would enter a crisis phase in the next two months.

He pointed out that even though the BMKG data showed that some regions had received light rain, the potential for prolonged drought remained, especially in South Kalimantan, Java and South Sulawesi.

“Let’s meet again if next week the rainfall in Sumatra shows good potential,” Luhut said.

In 1997 and 1998, Indonesia experienced a prolonged drought induced by the strongest-ever recorded El Niño, which triggered widespread fires.

The greatest damage caused by forest and land fires in Indonesia occurred in 1997, when fires wiped out millions of hectares of forest and plantation areas and caused losses estimated at US$2.45 billion.

Recently, many climate watchers have said that this year’s weather phenomenon, with rapid warming in the central and eastern Pacific, had all the ingredients to create another monster El Niño, like the one in 1997 that led to a spike in global temperatures.

BMKG chief Andi Eka Sakya also said there were indications that this year’s El Niño could be as severe as in 1997. “The trend of the 2015 El Niño strengthening is shown by the tendency of the pool of warm water to drift east and keep widening toward the same form as in September 1997,” he told The Jakarta Post. (ind)

Extreme weather hits farms, ruins harvests
Slamet Susanto and Ruslan Sangadji, The Jakarta Post 16 Sep 15;

The current extreme weather has aborted harvests on hundreds of destroyed of farmland in Yogyakarta and Central Sulawesi, causing farmers in the two provinces billions of rupiah in losses.

“The [current] weather and climate are extraordinary, unpredictable. For years, August until October has been the best time for planting onions,” said Sumarwanto, a farmer from Srigading village, Bantul, Yogyakarta.

The 47-year-old said temperatures could be cool, reaching 18 to 20 degrees Celsius on one day, then suddenly increase to above 35oC.

Because of the extreme weather, Sumarwanto said he could not harvest the commodity on his hectare of land as the onion plants, which were aged between 30 to 40 days, dried up in just two days.

“To plant the onions, I spent about Rp 20 million [US$1,390],” said the father of one.

About 80 percent of 400 hectares of farmland in Sanden district, Bantul, which had been planted with onions, were reportedly suffering harvest failure. Similarly, about 170 hectares of onions in Parangtritis, Kretek district, in the same regency, were facing the same fate.

Bantul Agriculture Agency head Partogi Pakpahan said his agency did not yet know why the leaves of the onions had become yellow and dry.

“This morning, we are sending a team to the fields to investigate,” Partogi told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

He said the harvest failures occurred on farmland located within a 4-kilometer radius of the beach, while land located far from the coast was not experiencing the issue.

Meanwhile, many farmers in Bolupontu Jaya transmigration village, Sigi regency, Central Sulawesi, have reportedly moved into construction and mining work due to the prolonged dry season.

One of the farmers, Abbas Daeng Malewa, said he and his friends worked in construction for government projects in Sigi since there was no agricultural work in their village.

“We worked on a bridge development for two months in Kalukubula village, Sigi,” Abbas told the Post recently.

After the bridge was completed, Abbas said he and his friends began working in traditional gold mining in Palu. “We have been working here for 11 days.”

However, Abbas said they could not stand working in construction or mining for long as their skills were in farming.

“We don’t know when the dry season will end,” he said.

Abbas’ village is known as a center for agricultural products, such as onions, chilies, tomatoes, mustard, cucumbers, eggplants, long beans and melons, which are sold to other areas in the province and East Kalimantan.

Similarly, farmers in the highlands of Napu, Poso regency, have suffered losses because of the prolonged dry season.

Ruben, a farmer of Maholo village, North Lore district, Poso, said many farmland areas were not currently productive. “My plants died due to drought.”

He said the highlands used to produce vegetables such as cabbages, beans and read beans, as well as fruits such as oranges, papaya and melons.

Another farmer, Arman from Watumaeta village, said he suffered failures of his cabbage and tomato crops due to the drought, which has affected the area for three months.

“This time, farmers are suffering big losses,” he said.