Indonesia disaster agency warns of drought in Java, Bali amid El Niño

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia is expecting a longer dry season, lasting until October, due to the El Niño weather pattern, threatening clean water supply and increasing the risk of forest fires, the country’s disaster agency said on Monday.

Indonesia’s weather agency has pushed back its forecast for the peak of the dry season due to El Niño’s impact to September and October, compared with its previous estimate of August to September, Abdul Muhari, spokesperson for the disaster agency BNPB, told an online media briefing.

This has the potential to exacerbate drought in islands below the equator in the archipelago, which include Java – home to over 150 million people, as well as Bali and Nusa Tenggara.

“It has been two months of dry weather in Java and it’s worrying because the extreme impact of El Niño will last until October,” Abdul said, warning that water levels at a reservoir near Jakarta have significantly dropped.

This year’s dry season is expected to be the most severe since 2019, partially due to the return of El Niño, the weather agency has previously said.

Six have died in a remote, mountainous region in the country’s eastern Papua region, where thousands are facing hunger brought on by drought, authorities said in July.

Authorities also warned that some provinces, such as Aceh in the northern tip of Sumatra island, had experienced frequent forest fires in recent weeks even though the country’s total number of forest fires in July were lower than in 2019.

The disaster agency recorded 75 fires in July, compared to 115 in the same month in 2019.

The Southeast Asian nation experienced devastating forest fires in 2015 and 2019 that blanketed the country and parts of Southeast Asia region with haze. The 2019 fires caused about $5.2 billion of economic losses in the eight Indonesian provinces, according to the World Bank.

(Reporting by Gayatri Suroyo; Additional reporting by Fransiska Nangoy; Editing by Sharon Singleton)