By Harland Dahl
While some areas of Thailand currently face heavy monsoon rains, others suffer from the effects of a drought that began in November of 2014. This was the worst drought experienced by Thailand in over a decade.
The drought has had lasting negative effects on Thailand’s agricultural sector and has led to difficulties in rice farming, a crucial crop for Thai farmers and families. Thailand is the world’s largest rice exporter, with rice farming taking up 40% of Thai agricultural land and representing a significant portion of Thailand’s labor force and economy.
Other crops have been affected, as well, threatening the livelihood of many Thai citizens. Over half of Thailand’s working age population is supported by the agricultural sector.
In response to water shortages caused by the drought, the Thai government has asked farmers to delay rice production. Thai Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives Petipong Pungbun Na Ayudhya explained, “The agriculture ministry and irrigation department have requested that farmers delay rice planting in the Chao Phraya area because the Chao Phraya area is a large rice growing area… and we need to organize the water that is being used.”
By delaying rice production, the government hopes to reduce nonessential water usage until monsoon rains bring relief from the drought. Thailand’s rainy season usually lasts from May to October, bringing an average of 2.4 meters of rain to Thailand’s southern regions, and 1.4 meters to the northern and central parts of the country.
Although Thailand’s rainy season had already begun, as of July 6th, 22 of the country’s 76 provinces were still facing drought conditions. The Thai Meteorological Department anticipates that this year’s rainy season will deliver mostly “near normal” rains. A report published by the department on June 26th predicts that the southwest monsoon will begin to travel north in July, bringing heavy to very heavy rains to Upper Thailand. Then, as is typical in the seasonal cycle, the rainfall maximum of the South Asian monsoon will shift southward in October towards Southern Thailand.
The Thai government is struggling to simultaneously provide relief from the drought, implement a water management plan to safeguard against future droughts, and prepare for threats presented by monsoon rains.
In response to the drought, the Thai government has implemented a system of daily water delivery to the most drought-affected areas using water trucks. Unfortunately, these efforts have often been insufficient to fulfill many communities’ water needs. The government has also used cloud seeding technology to create artificial rain to aid Thai farmers who depend on rice farming for their livelihood and keep rice production levels up.
Thailand has also announced a plan to invest $7.5 billion in water management projects in the coming years. These include a 10-year water management plan, a replacement for the less successful management plan of a previous regime.
The start of the rainy season has already led to flooding and mudslides in Bangkok, as well as in Thailand’s Central Plans. To prepare for future rains, the government has begun to dig waterways to contain rainwater and use social media to warn citizens of flooding risks.