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Drought conditions in Australia spread north as Indonesia feels the bite of the big dry

By Indonesia correspondent David Lipson, Friday September 21, 2018 - 10:35 EST
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Rice farmer Ampir said the dry season had lasted twice as long as usual. - ABC

The drought in Australia is having an impact on its neighbours, with 5 million people in Indonesia suffering from an extended dry season.

Hot, dry air intensified by drought conditions in Australia has circulated north, contributing to water shortages in 4,000 Indonesian villages.

Pak Siswanto, the director of climatology at Indonesia's Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysical Agency, said the weather conditions in Indonesia followed on from what was happening in its larger southern neighbour.

"The dry season in Indonesia is actually forced by the wind circulation coming from Australian continent," he said.

"When we have dry air and less moisture circulated from Australia toward Indonesia, it modulates the dry season in Indonesia."

Rice farmers struggling to make ends meet

The island of Java, Indonesia's most populous island, has been hit hardest by the extended dry season, with some farmers saying they have not seen any rain in four months.

In the Tangerang regency, west of Jakarta, rice farmer of 15 years Nurdin said his harvest was well down on previous seasons.

"The crops have stopped growing, the roots have died, so the harvest has failed this season," Nurdin said.

"For a hectare of rice paddy, we usually get at least five tonnes of rice.

"This season we only got five sacks of rice. That's only 250 kilograms. Far out!"

Ampir has been farming nearby paddies for 20 years and said this dry season had lasted twice as long as usual.

"It's a difficult time for the family's finances for sure, a totally dark time for us," he told ABC.

"With the crops failing us, we'll do labour jobs to survive.

"Anything from digging sand for construction or cutting grass on the farm. Anything that makes money for the family will do."

Government delivering water as Indonesians wait for wet season

In the village of Pamoyanan in West Java, locals line up on the main road, holding buckets, bottles and plastic tubs.

Their well ran dry several weeks ago and now they are totally reliant on the Government, which has been delivering water by the truckload twice a week.

Samah, a mother in the village, said the closest water source, an almost-dry creek, was not good enough to drink.

"I feel so sad, as this crisis has affected my husband's job," she said.

"As the family provider he's had to find and collect clean water for us … but the water quality is bad. Not drinkable.

"We need to buy bottled water for the kids to drink."

So far, the Indonesian Government has delivered 30 million litres of water into villages across Java.

There have also been numerous grass and forest fires across Indonesia, though not nearly as many as burned during the severe drought of 2015.

The wet season is due to arrive between October and November, but forecasters are predicting the rains will come late in some areas.

"It is God's will," Nurdin said with a smile.

"Whether God will give me a harvest or failing crops. I've got to accept it. I'll just plant again. That's life."


© ABC 2018

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