Indonesia braces for forest fires, crop loss from severe dry season

FILE PHOTO: A farmer clears weeds from his crop in a rice paddy field near Subang, Indonesia's West Java province, May 27, 2014. Asia's governments are scrambling to head off the potential impact of a weather phenomenon that in the past has driven food prices to levels that sparked social unrest. They are aiming to reduce the impact of the so-called El Nino, a weather pattern that can bring drought to Australia, Southeast Asia and India. REUTERS/Beawiharta/File Photo

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia is expecting a severe dry season from the impact of the El Nino weather pattern, threatening harvests and raising the risks of forest fires, the head of its weather agency said on Tuesday.

"Looking at the data we have, El Nino started in June and will affect almost all of Indonesia and worsen until September," said Dwikorita Karnawati, head of the BMKG, Indonesia's meteorological, climatological and geophysics agency.

She told a press conference El Nino would cause severe drought on the main islands of Indonesia, with some likely to see no rain or just 30% of the typical amount.

"This will decrease the availability of groundwater that will impact agriculture and irrigation, harvest failure, as well as forest fires," Dwikorita said, urging stakeholders to prepare to mitigate the risks, including by use of weather modification technology.

"We have to be extremely careful," she said.

Indonesian experienced devastating forest fires in 2019 which blanketed the country and the region with haze and caused about $5.2 billion of economic losses in the eight affected provinces, according to the World Bank.

Early signs of hot, dry weather caused by El Nino are threatening food producers across Asia, with palm oil and rice production likely to suffer in Indonesia and Malaysia - which supply 80% of the world's palm oil - and Thailand, according to analysts.

(Reporting by Dewi Kurniawati; Editing by Martin Petty)

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