Anti-drought plans in the pipeline for Thailand

Anti-drought plans in the pipeline for Thailand
Amphawa Canal in Samut Songkhram province, which is home to a famous floating market, has seen unusually low water levels, as drought has hit several areas of the country. Local residents said water volume in the canal is much lower than in previous year.
PHOTO: The Nation/ANN

As the drought crisis continues - school pupils go short of drinking water and farmers in various areas risk growing seasonal rice, despite a dim prospect they'll get water supplies any time soon.

Deputy Prime Minister MR Pridiyathorn Devakula yesterday said Agriculture Minister Peetipong Phuengbun na Ayutthaya would propose measures to aid drought-affected farmers in a meeting of economic ministers tomorrow - although they would not receive a Bt1,000 (S$39.70) per rai compensation money handout.

He also said the government's request for farmers to postpone their rice growing until July was only for the Chao Phraya River Basin and the two-month delay in income-earning would not entitle the farmers to compensation. He speculated that some might be helped with the production of crops that need less water.

Peetipong said he would table three measures for the Chao Phraya River Basin at tomorrow's meeting - if approved they would be presented at the Cabinet meeting in Chiang Mai on June 30.

The three measures are to provide water until the harvest for 3.4 million rai already under rice paddies; to promote alternative crops like corn on the newly-sown 600,000 rai rice fields; to encourage farmers whose two million rai was not yet sown to wait for rain to grow rice, or to go ahead with growing crops that use less water.

In Chaiyaphum, which was hit by the "worst drought in 30 years", the Chi River has run dry, while its 13 dams were holding water under 10 per cent of capacity. This water was now being saved for maintaining dam ridges and supplying tap water until the month's end.

Governor Wichien Chantharanothai has declared 13 out of the 16 districts, including Muang, Phu Khieo and Khon Sawan, as drought disaster zones.

About 388,600 rai of farmlands have been drought-damaged while 671 villages had no water for tap systems. Water trucks were being dispatched daily to at least 145 villages, but supply was still insufficient.

In Nakhon Ratchasima's Muang district, farmers in Tambon Polkrang were "dry sowing" in the hope of rainfall rather than letting this rice-growing season pass by. This was despite the Royal Irrigation Office 8's announcement to suspend water releasing to canals and urging farmers to postpone rice-growing indefinitely this year.

In the central province of Pathum Thani, farmers were told not to grow rice due to low water levels in dams, while those who had sown seeds a month ago were told to buy crop insurance from the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Co-operatives to lessen risks.

In Khon Kaen's drought-hit Muang district, it has been a decade since pupils of Ban Noen Kwao School in Tambon Don Han have had to take drinking water to classes.

"Some pupils, whose personal stock of water had run out, resorted to stealing from their friends. Teachers warned them to ask for the bottle owner's permission first," said Prathom 5 teacher Sutthisak Pholkham.

Pupils said they were used to carrying drinking bottles to school. "The day I forget to bring water or my stock runs out, I ask from my friends or endure thirst until going home," a student said.

The school depended on a village tap water system and a nearby canal - but their levels were decreasing each day and it urged related agencies for a water filter to refill its 10 empty water tanks.

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