'Farmers in Thailand need far more water than what is available'

Reuters

WATER EXPERTS have warned of an upcoming conflict over distribution. They say the number of farmers keen to grow rice exceeds the limited amount of water available for distribution by 85 per cent - so it must be used wisely to ease the crisis.

With the currently drought continuing for almost three months, 71 districts in 14 provinces in the North, Northeast, East and Central regions have already been declared natural disaster zones by the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department.

However, the Royal Irrigation Department has assured that there is enough water for domestic consumption until July.

Chaowalit Chantararat, managing director of the TEAM Group, said he also believed there would be sufficient water for domestic consumption - if the water distribution plan was strictly followed. But he feared there would be the conflict over the scarce supply of water in the next few months.

"Currently, we have enough water for planting rice for only around 300,000 rai. But according to our information from satellite images around two million rai of rice fields have been planted in this dry season," Chaowalit said.

"Therefore, we definitely cannot provide water for the remaining 1.7 million rai of rice fields when the water is most needed in April, when the rice starts to develop its grains."

Water distribution plans this dry season for the Chao Phraya basin, the country's agricultural heartland and the major populated area, began in November last year.

They concentrated mostly on irrigation for domestic consumption, with 1,100 cubic metres of water prepared for this objective. Only 400 cubic metres was allocated for farming - and planting rice also banned.

Since then, Royal Irrigation Department has revealed that consumers have already used 44 per cent of available water under the distribution plan - 1,278 cubic metres of water, as of Thursday.

Nevertheless, Suthep Noipairoj, the Royal Irrigation Department director, insisted we would have sufficient water supply for the rest of the dry season.

"According to available water resources and the water discharge level - at 15.8 to 18.8 million cubic metres of water per day - there will be enough water for consumption in the Chao Phraya River Basin until the mid-rainy season in July, for sure," Suthep said.

"As we have seen on the news, farmers are struggling very hard to find water for their plants, even using all the water remaining in the near-dry waterways," Chaowalit said.

"I don't know whether the government will be strict enough in managing water distribution according to the plans, but I'm sure that if the government helps farmers by allocating more water share for them, the water supply will not be enough."

He encouraged everyone in the community to save as much water as they can, especially city residents. He gave the example that Bangkok alone uses around five million cubic metres of water a day.

Suthep said the government could not force farmers to stop secretly pumping water to their fields. Officers were trying to get people to understand the situation and appealing for them to not pump water.

"The drought situation will be relieved soon, as the severe El Nino becomes milder and this year we will get more precipitation. Therefore, I ask farmers to wait for the new rain in order to grow their crops," he said.