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Thai farmers left praying for rain year after year

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Millions of Thais, especially the farmers, go through a real hard time during this time of the year when there is a drought. The farmers, whose livelihoods depend on rainfall, are left praying for rain year after year. -- Photo by AFP

The Nation
Bangkok, Wednesday 24 June 2010

Around this time every year, Thailand experiences drought, which affects millions of people, especially farmers, whose livelihoods depend on rainfall. We should have learned how to deal with this by now. It's time for the government and relevant agencies to come up with ways to mitigate the effects of water shortages. We need a long-term solution.

The recent proposal by the agriculture ministry to give affected farmers cash handouts may ease the pain for a while, but such measures offer only an immediate, temporary solution. Combating drought requires a sustainable solution. Natural disasters always recur, and water deficiencies will continue to affect our lives.

It is estimated that drought this year will affect more than 1.7 million households in 50 provinces. More than 6 million Thais are affected by the extreme dry season. Drought not only depletes water reserves, but also causes damage to fields and plantations. The lack of rainfall also affects those not directly involved in agriculture, as some waterways are used for transportation of goods and passengers.

Agriculture is of course the most affected sector, as it consumes more than two-thirds of the country's water supply. Being the world's largest rice exporter, the country's water crisis could have a severe impact on rice output as farmers are forced to reduce their rice harvesting cycles.

The agriculture ministry earlier urged farmers to plan for fewer crop cycles this year, but some farmers have been reluctant to do so, as any reduction in output will affect their earnings.

Another problem is that the decrease in the amount of water that flows into dams can be attributed to a high level of water consumption upstream.

The issue must be addressed from both supply and demand sides. Effective irrigation systems should be developed to ensure a sustainable supply of water. The pipe and storage infrastructure should be constantly checked and improved to prevent unnecessary waste of water through leakage or corrosion.

Everybody must consider the effect they are having on water supplies. We must conserve as much as possible instead of simply waiting for the force of nature to start working. We may not always be able to rely on big monsoon storms, as the effects of climate change are unpredictable.

We have to utilise water resources effectively and efficiently. Quality water management is urgently needed. Consumers should be more responsible in their consumption habits. Farmers are in need of education on how to manage water supplies instead of looking for new places to farm, leading to more deforestation and further reduction of green areas that are required to maintain a conducive environment for the retention of natural water.

Unfortunately, the government does not have an effective water management plan to deal with this annual issue. The proposal for cash handouts is an example of how the ministry desperately tries to respond to the crisis each year in an ad hoc manner.

Lower levels of water will eventually mean fewer people engaged in farming. If that is the case, the challenging question will be how to find alternative sources of income for farmers who are forced to reduce their output or abandon the land altogether.

The amount of rainfall is not only the decisive factor in water management. Israel, for example, sees much less rainfall than Thailand, but the country manages to maintain its good agricultural output and water supply, thanks to effective water consumption and management.

We can no longer desperately wait for the monsoon. It's imperative to take pre-emptive steps. Precautionary measures must be in place. New sources of water supply should be explored. Sustainable and long-term water management plans should be formulated.

A lack of resources and, ultimately, competition for those scarce resources will bring conflict and instability - especially if the majority of farmers feel that their urgent needs are not being properly addressed.

Asia News Network

MySinchew 2010-06-24


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