By The Nation
Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha and key ministers are to visit Nakhon Sawan and Chai Nat provinces tomorrow to follow up progress on eight drought-tackling measures – the former province was the government’s model for the drought programme.
Prayut will also preside over a meeting of a public-private committee for four lower northern provinces at Nakhon Sawan to discuss drought management issues and progress of locals’ wellbeing promotion measures.
Sukhothai Governor Piti Kaewsalubsee predicted locals would feel a worsening of the drought in late March to early April and 400,000 rai of rice fields would be hit hard, so people must save water now. Thailand has a total of 60 million rai of rice fields and 12 million farmers – over half growing rice at areas outside the irrigation system.
Piti said, judging from the water level at the Ban Haad Saphan Chan sluice gates, the province’s water supply was now at 10 million cubic metres out of the 15-million capacity. As a result, officials only opened one sluice gate, releasing water at three cubic metres per second.
Overall, the province’s water for use from Yom River would last 70 days, Priti said. Sukhothai farmers grow rice paddies on 400,000 rai over a total 1.4-million-rai area. Hence they were told to grow fewer water-dependant, short-lived plants and to save up water or else be hit by severe drought in late March and early April, just ahead of the crop harvest, he added.
Phitsanulok’s Bang Rakham farmers, who resisted the Royal Irrigation Department’s ban on off-season rice-growing, resorted to digging up wells in the Yom riverbed to nurture paddies.
Village headman Wirat Buddhakosa said he had the mid-river 18-metre-deep well dug for Bt5,000 to water his 40-rai rice field. Bang Rakham people’s main occupation was rice growing, so they had no choice but to do this despite the authority’s ban, he explained. He claimed at least 100 farmers resorted to this method.
Another farmer, Chalita Chuthong, 40, said her family’s 30-rai rice field – as well as relatives’ 100 rais – depended on a mid-river wells dug last year.
Phitsanulok declared Wat Bot, Bang Krathum and Wang Thong districts as drought disaster zones while Bang Ramkham was poised to be declared too.
The early drought in Chachoengsao’s Muang district has been worsened by massive inflows of seawater that reached up to the Bang Pakong River’s origin in Prachin Buri province. The whole river has become unusable for farming and waterworks. Authorities have now closed 35 sluice gates to save the remaining usable water.
Kanchanaburi’s Srinakharin Dam and Vajiralongkorn Dam now contain only 4,466 million cubic metres. Residents of the seven Mae Klong river basin provinces must save water and refrain from rice growing or shrimp/fish raising, said Srinakharin Dam director Weerasak Srikawi.
The country’s major dam levels as of Monday were: Bhumibhol Dam at 36 per cent of capacity, Sirikit Dam, 49 per cent, Ubol Ratana Dam 29 per cent, Pasak Jolasid Dam 49 per cent and Lampao Dam at 43 per cent.
In Chiang Mai, a Maejo Poll, conducted on 600 farmers nationwide from December 15-30, found 93.83 per cent were drought-affected – half of whom expected this year’s drought to be even worse.
The three top issues triggered by the drought were: the water shortage and subsequent lower rice production (74 per cent),the shrinking income affecting farmers’ debt-repayment ability (66.33 per cent); and higher cost of rice cultivation (62.83 per cent). Slightly over half (57.17 per cent) of farmers disagreed with the seasonal rice-growing ban on grounds that the farmers would have no income to pay debts; while 42.83 thought otherwise.
In Chai Nat’s Sankhaburi district, soldiers and officials yesterday talked with Noi River farmers to warn them not to stealthily pump water for rice fields.
The farmers grew rice paddies despite the off-season rice-growing ban, which was imposed after the supply for water to Sankhaburi dropped to a low level.
This is the first in a series of articles on drought.