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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs    25 August  2012

Thailand coming under grip of widespread drought


With last year's horrendous flooding still fresh in memory, coupled with almost daily rains in Bangkok and the suburbs, and reports of massive flooding in neighbouring countries, many wonder if Thailand is about to be hit by another catastrophic flood this year.

However, emerging information from various agencies shows the country is in fact facing dramatic meteorological swings.

Yes, most of the country is in for drought this year.

I'm quite worried the country will face drought from October this year. The drought will likely drag on throughout the dry season next year, too. In that case, we won't have adequate water supply for farmlands in the central region," Meteorological Department deputy director-general Somchai Bai-muang said.

He said rain might have been pouring down earlier this year but they were mostly in areas downstream of the large dams.
"If there's no storm to pour a huge amount of water into large dams over the next two months, most areas across the country will face shortages of water," Somchai said.

If it is not the living testimony of climate change, then what else could play a part in the growing variability between seasons and extreme weather events that intensify droughts and floods?A drought during the 2010 growing season caused 13 billion baht (US$450 million) in crop damage.

One year later, massive flooding in 2011 caused 1.200 trillion baht ($40 billion) in damage that rippled through all sectors of the economy. This year drought is wreaking havoc but the extent of it is yet to be measured.

Concerned officials are meeting the challenge of water management as the country encounters high fluctuation in water supplies.

Royal Irrigation Department director-general Lertwiroj Kowattana said although it seems to have been raining heavily, the amount of rain was not excessive but at a level the country would normally witness annually from seasonal rains caused by southwesterly winds and storms.

He said this year, however, storms are bringing rains mostly to the upper northern and upper northeastern regions and to areas downstream of the dams. The southern and most areas of the northeastern regions are facing drought.

The amount of water in large dams such as Bhumibol and Sirikit stands at 47 per cent and 51 per cent respectively. Both dams hold water that can be used for agriculture, totalling 4.9 billion cubic metres, whereas demand normally reaches 10 billion cubic metres. Besides, the country also needs water for human consumption. The department must manage the water supply so the dams store an additional 5.1 billion cubic metres.

He said the department has been releasing water in large dams not to reduce excess water but for consumption and preserving ecological systems, sweeping out saline, and for agriculture.

He advised farmers not to rush to grow off-season crops until the rainy season ends as the country needs land to drain excess water.

Science Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi said the Cabinet was informed by officials that the country would not face flooding this year, so from next week water from large dams would be released, leaving levels at an optimum to prevent the consequences of drought.

The Cabinet earlier issued orders to have water in large dams released to 50 per cent of capacity to prevent a repeat of last year's mega-floods.
Bhumibol Dam chief Narong Thaiprayoon said the amount of rain flowing into the dam is unusually lower than normal. Previously, the dam had about 50 million cubic metres of water flowing in per day; now it has only 19 million cubic metres per day.

A similar situation is happening at dams in the Northeastern region such as Huay Luang Dam in Udon Thani and Nam Oondam in Sakhon Nakhon, which are carrying only around 50 per cent of capacity because it rarely rains in those areas. Ubonrat Dam in Khon Kaen and Chulabhorn Dam in Chaiyaphum show the lowest water level in 10 years.

Droughts that spread in the northeast and southern region have damaged crops, prawn and fish farms in many provinces.

More than 3,000 rai of chilli plantation in Nakhon Ratchasima have died from drought. Royal artificial rain operations have been working in Buri Ram after more than 1 million rai of rice farms were damaged by drought.

Surat Thani's seven districts have been declared drought-hit areas. Phattalung's eight districts have been facing the same scenario as residents struggle with a shortage of water for consumption.

Meanwhile, four planes under the Royal artificial rains scheme have flown over Nakhon Si Thammarat to save 300,000 rai of farm land that have long faced drought.(1 rai = 1,600 sqm).

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This year in Thailand-what next?

AseanAffairs   04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

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