Thailand's drought to drag on for six months, say experts

Thailand's drought to drag on for six months, say experts
Thailand's vital rice belt is being battered by one of the worst droughts in living memory, forcing impoverished farmers deeper into debt and heaping fresh pain on an already weak economy.
PHOTO: AFP

THE DEVASTATING drought currently affecting Thailand could drag on until the middle of next year due to what experts are calling the mother of all El Ninos.

"The effects of El Nino will become stronger and last until next February, which means lower precipitation than what Thailand usually gets from the Pacific Ocean," said Chawalit Chantararat, managing director of Team Group.

El Nino was to blame for the sparse rainfall in the first half of this year's rainy season, he said.

"El Nino is disrupting storm patterns in the Pacific Ocean, so this year we will see fewer storms in the region, which decreases the rainfall that we get. And if this continues, we'll have to bear with the drought until the next rainy season," he said.

Dusadee Sukawat, a meteorology researcher at King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi, said that due to the severe El Nino event, which will extend into next year, there is a 80-per-cent likelihood of a shortage of rain in Asia and Australia and it will definitely upset the rain pattern in Thailand.

"Even if we get average rain during the last two months of the rainy season in August and September, it will not help fill up the nearly empty dams. This situation will not get better, unless there are some storms heading toward us," he said.

"There is a very high possibility that the drought will linger until the next rainy season - next June - and it will become more severe when the dry season comes," he said.

Maytee Mahayosanata, director of the Meteorological Department's Central Weather Forecasting Division, said the rainfall between July and September is expected to be about normal.

The water-shortage problem was not all about rainfall, he said.

Increasing consumption was one of the major factors behind the drought. For example, in 1997, the precipitation was the same as this year, but then there was no water shortage because what was used was lower than today, he said.

Thongplew Kongjun director of the Irrigation Department's Water Management and Hydrology Office, said the department had started dredging waterways and ponds to store 295 million cubic metres of water within the Chao Phraya River basin.

The work was 85 per cent complete. However, to make the best use of the limited water supply, everyone should save water. There will also be a change in planting.

"The paddy fields in the Chao Phraya basin have used seven billion cubic metres of water for five harvest seasons during these last two years.

If we reduce crops to two per year, we can save 2.3-billion cubic metres per year," he said. Besides the urgent change of next year's plan for agriculture, people in the city also have to use water wisely to conserve the scarce resource, he said.

"People in Greater Bangkok draw five million cubic metres of water from the tap per day. If every household uses 20 per cent less water, we can save one million cubic metres per day, which can be allocated to 40,000 rai of farmland," he said.

The next rice planting should be reduced to 150,000 rai of land, while farm management should be strictly enforced to avoid a water famine.

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