Severe drought could be Thailand's biggest concern this year

Severe drought could be Thailand's biggest concern this year
PHOTO: The Nation/ANN

Water stored in key dams is very low, government warns.

NATURAL DISASTERS and more severe drought brought on by climate change should be one of the biggest concerns for Thailand in 2016, |academics said.

"With the weather pattern shifting more than before, seasons and weather will become more unpredictable. This is due to climate change, which will most certainly have the worst effect on our food production as it relies heavily on weather," Tara Buakamsri, Greenpeace Southeast Asia's campaign director, said.

He warned that global warming would result in more severe storms, more frequent drought and floods, and would increase the level of the sea causing coastal erosion and flooding, so it would be very difficult for us to escape the outcome of climate change.

Arpa Wangkiat, a lecturer at Rangsit University's Department of Environmental Engineering, agreed, saying that small farmers would be most vulnerable to uneven weather patterns and worsening natural disasters.

"With the droughts in 2015, things will be worse in 2016 and the impact even more significant. Small farmers will suffer the most," Arpa pointed out.

According to the Royal Irrigation Department, available water in the four major dams in the Chao Phraya River basin - Bhumibol, Sirikit, Kwai Noi and Pasak Jolasid -was only 21 per cent or 3,834 cubic metres as of Christmas Day.

It was significantly lower than on New Year's day in 2015, when the available water in the four dams was 37 per cent or 6,766 cubic metres.

Tara added that the recent United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris mattered due to worsening climate change.

"At the COP21, there was a talk about how we can cope with the impact of climate change. The world is now alert about this issue," he said. "But in Thailand, our weakness is that official agencies don't have a substantially integrated work plan, so many agencies are often inconsistent with the national agenda. This is our main challenge."

Apart from natural disasters, government policies on environmental issues are also a major concern for 2016, academics warned.

Considering the already existing environmental and health problems in several mining and industry sites nationwide, Maha Sarakham University lecturer Chainarong Sretthachau said there was no sign of these problems improving any time soon.

Earlier, the Primary Industries and Mines Department was planning to open a new round of gold exploration in 12 provinces, but the plan faced strong opposition from the public and had to be put on hold.

Conflict over mining projects

"In the Northeast alone, there are so many projects that are having an adverse impact on locals, and considering the political links, it will be very difficult to resolve these issues," Chainarong said.

"The resource rich Isaan [Northeastern region] will be exploited more by capitalists and many projects are bound to continue, such as potash mines, coal-fired power plants and petroleum drilling," he said.

Chainarong also cautioned that |if this trend continued, it would |give rise to a vast conflict across the country.

Arpa agreed, saying, "We have to keep an eye on such developments, because it will have environmental and health impacts on the local population and create conflicts."

Citing projects that have had bad consequences, such as the gold mines in Loei and Phichit provinces or the petroleum exploration site in Kalasin, she said we should remember not to repeat the same mistakes.

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