Indonesia

Indonesia's drought-hit Irian Jaya gets rain

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By Lewa Pardomuan

JAKARTA, April 23 (Reuters) - Parts of Indonesia's drought-stricken Irian Jaya province received ample rain this month along with several other islands in the world's largest archipelago, weather officials said on Thursday.

"Heavy rains have fallen in several parts of Irian Jaya in the past few weeks. Today, we see a lot of rain clouds hanging over the area," Waan Tarmin, a spokesman for the Meteorology and Geophysics office, told Reuters by telephone.

"Heavy rains were also reported in the (nearby) Molucca islands," he said.

But Tarmin said rains had yet to fall in the Jayawijaya area in Irian Jaya, which is badly affected by the drought.

"The drought is (mostly) in the central part of Irian Jaya...in the Jayawijaya area. Only a small quantity of rain has fallen there," he said.

Remote Irian Jaya, on the western side of New Guinea island, has been hit by a severe drought since last year, leading to food shortages in one of the world's most inaccessible areas.

The Irianese, who emerged from a Stone Age-type existence three decades ago, eat mostly sweet potatoes, but Jakarta has introduced rice as the staple food.

The Australian government has said its air force will distribute food to Irian Jaya.

An Australian government team found that about half the 90,000 people living around the Irian Jaya highland town of Wamena, about 4,000 km (2,500 miles) east of Jakarta, had food supplies. Wamena is in the Jayawijaya area.

The Indonesian government said 500 people died because of the famine in Irian last year.

The regular dry season will start in a several areas in Irian Jaya in May and July.

Indonesia was hit by a severe drought last year induced by the El Nino weather phenomenon, which disrupted output of commodities such as rice, cocoa, coffee and rubber.

El Nino stems from a warming of Pacific waters off Peru which cause drought in some areas and floods in others.

Weather officials said rains also fell in the southern part of Sumatra, Indonesia's main island of Java, Kalimantan on the Indonesian side of Borneo, and on Sulawesi.

But they said only a little rain fell in East Kalimantan, where raging forest fires threaten a repeat of last year's smog over large parts of Southeast Asia.

According to latest government estimates, the fires have destroyed 280,000 hectares (700,000 acres) of forest in East Kalimantan, damaged the habitat of endangered animals and sent a toxic smog over most of the province.

"In general, weather conditions have not changed much in Indonesia. The El Nino is expected to end in July," said Tarmin.

Indonesia's wet season, which normally starts in September and lasts through March, did not begin until December because of El Nino. The normal dry season lasts from April through September.

Coffee is grown in South Sumatra, Bengkulu and Lampung -- all on Sumatra -- which accounts for 70 percent of the country's output. Rice is grown in Java and cocoa in South Sulawesi.

The official Antara news agency reported this week that the government planned to open 5,000 hectares of land in Irian Jaya for soybean cultivation.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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