Indonesia — The Environment Ministry warned Thursday that the warming effect of El Niño, expected to reach the region in December, could trigger forest fires in hotspots like Riau and cause droughts nationwide throughout 2015.
The ministrys deputy of environmental damage and climate change, Arief Yuwono, said El Niño had been a contributing factor to forest fires in Riau and haze five times over the last 10 years.
El Niño is the warming of the eastern tropical Pacific region, which occurs every three to seven years and alters the weather pattern in the tropics.
Riau, with its extensive peatland areas, is prone to forest fires. In February to March this year, forest fire-related diseases affected more than 53,000 people and caused estimated financial losses of Rp 10 trillion (US$845 million).
El Niño will exacerbate forest fires because of the prolonged droughts and temperature change it brings, Arief said.
He said that the government, local residents and volunteers were working together to anticipate forest fires in Riau, South Sumatra, Jambi, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan.
We are taking preventive measures in areas that will potentially be affected by forest fires, Arief said.
Agriculture Ministrys research and development agency head, Irsalas, explained that El Niño droughts were predicted to disturb the growing seasons of rice, corn and soybeans, from July to October this year.
Irsalas said that he hoped El Niño would not impact on food production as predictions said its affect would be weak to moderate.
However, we need to analyze rainfall prediction quantitatively using data from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency [BMKG], he said.
He said that eight food production centers Banten, West Java, Central Java, Yogyakarta, East Java, Bali, West Nusa Tenggara, East Nusa Tenggara, Central Sulawesi, South Sulawesi and Papua might not be able to produce rice, corn and soybeans, because they were forecast less than 60 mm rainfall because of El Niño.
A hydrology expert from Gadjah Mada University (UGM), Agus Maryono, said that water catchment areas and rivers, in villages and cities, could be used to store water.
He said that villagers could build dams to retain water along rivers and people in cities could create water catchment areas along rivers and build artificial lakes.
He also urged factories and industry to save rainwater.