Villagers fish in a pond in Pathum Thani, which has shrunk in measurement as Thailand braces for its worst drought in 4 a long time. (Photograph by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
Thailand has been battling seasonal drought for many years, however this yr, the Workplace of Nationwide Water Sources (ONWR) is frightened the water scarcity might get out of hand due to the potential for conflicts in drought-stricken areas.
“Through the extreme drought in 2015 [when Thailand was still under a military regime], troopers had been deployed to guard pure wells from indiscriminate pumping by native villagers to irrigate their farms,” ONWR secretary-general Somkiat Prajamwong instructed the Bangkok Publish in a particular interview.
“This time, the federal government cannot do this as a result of our nation has grow to be democratised. Folks will do no matter they need, and it will result in water disputes … villagers actually preventing over water.”
As the top of the ONWR, Mr Somkiat’s title is usually heard when the subject of water disaster is introduced up.
The company was created in December 2017 to assist deal with water-related points, and Part 44 of the interim structure was invoked to expedite its set-up. As its title suggests, the workplace is in control of water useful resource administration and coordinating insurance policies and visions throughout 20 state companies.
Previous to its formation, every of those companies would have completely different water administration insurance policies and infrequently would they coordinate their insurance policies with each other.
The workplace has 100 employees — 80% of which had been introduced in from the Royal Irrigation Division (RID). Mr Somkiat himself is a former director-general of the RID, the state company underneath the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives that irrigates the nation’s farmlands.
The Nakhon Sawan native has a strong background on water administration. He acquired his bachelor’s diploma on irrigation from Kasetsart College. He went on to check water useful resource improvement on the Asian Institute of Know-how (AIT), earlier than pursuing his doctoral diploma on agricultural and irrigation engineering from Utah State College.
Mr Somkiat has held completely different positions in varied water organisations. He’s the secretary-general of the Thai Nationwide Committee on Irrigation and Drainage. In 2016, he was named an honorary member and vp of Asia Water Council.
The ONWR secretary-general mentioned his curiosity in water administration stems from his household background. Born right into a humble farming household, he began engaged on rice fields from a younger age.
“I am not afraid to inform everybody my household’s again story,” he mentioned. “I grew up ploughing rice fields so I’ve direct expertise which allows me to know the cruel actuality of life as farmers.
“I perceive how a lot water means to them, so it touchdown a job on the RID was actually a dream come true, as a result of then I can actually assist farmers.”
Whereas on the RID, he spent a long time constructing irrigation canals and growing water infrastructures throughout the nation, which vary from small dams to mega reservoirs.
His position the ONWR is completely different. The company serves extra like a think-tank which develops the nation’s insurance policies.
It’s liable for crafting water administration methods for the nation.
One measure that ONWR helped prescribe and implement is the planting restriction which requires farmers to cease cultivating crops throughout this season’s drought.
This measure is designed to handle the demand and provides of water within the nation as a drought looms nearer.
It’s also behind the federal government’s promotion of much less water-intensive crops, the push to offer various jobs through the drought to guard incomes and jobs and the choice to compensate farmers who skip on planting this season because of the lack of water provides.
“We try to restrict the pumping of water to farmlands as a result of we actually should concentrate on saving the little water we have now for human consumption,” he mentioned.
“However in the long run, it’s as much as the federal government to verify these measures are obeyed.”
He mentioned the ONWR and associated companies are preserving their eyes on doable conflicts with farmers as they start to arrange their fields for planting over the subsequent few months.
To mitigate the influence of the drought, the federal government is claimed to be getting ready a raft of measures, which embrace the availability of compensations to have an effect on farmers.
Bangkok can also be anticipated to launch a lot of short-term measures to cope with the water scarcity, together with the deployment of additional tanks to drought-hit areas and the drilling of wells for groundwater extraction.
Regardless of these measures, this yr’s drought is predicted to be way more extreme in accordance with the Thai Meteorological Division’s (TMD), this yr’s drought would be the worst in 4 a long time.
In line with Mr Somkiat, this yr’s drought is brought on by the identical climate sample that triggered less-than-average precipitation to fall throughout Thailand final yr.
Final yr’s storms introduced heavy rainfall to some areas, but it surely wasn’t sufficient to replenish the 4 main dams which provide tens of millions of individuals alongside the Chao Phraya river basin with water, he mentioned.
Precipitation dropped by about 30-40% and because of this, there are solely sufficient water in Tak’s Bhumibol dam, Uttaradit’s Sirikit dam, Phitsanulok’s Kwai Noi Bamrung Dan dam and Lop Buri’s Pasak Jolasid dam to produce water for family consumption solely.
The Central area can be hardest hit this yr, particularly the 22 provinces alongside the Chao Phraya river basin.
Nakhon Sawan, with over 70,000 rai of rice fields, and Kamphaeng Phet can be worst-affected by the drought.
Mr Somkiat additionally mentioned extra farmland can be affected this yr as a result of the quantity of farmed space has risen by three million rai over the previous few years.
“There is no such thing as a means that we may ship sufficient water to produce these farms,” he mentioned.
“The state of affairs will worsen as a result of RID would possibly have to launch contemporary water — which ought to actually be saved for consumption — to drive out sea water that are speeding into the Chao Phraya.”
“Everybody should work collectively to avoid wasting water, or at the very least use it properly.”