Water shortages in Thailand have become increasingly acute even in advance of the hottest season of the year which typically begins in March. The country’s Meteorological Department has warned that the worst drought in four decades is possible.
This year’s El Nino climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean has shifted warmer air to Thailand causing temperatures to rise. Another cause of scarcity is the number of dams that have been constructed in recent years. Water being held in upstream areas of the Mekong river, including by China, have been a contributing element in record low water availability downstream.
Bangkok residents can access drinking water from only 18 distribution stations according to authorities, who have warned the capitals citizens about high sodium levels. However, the water they are able to drink they are being told to limit their intake of due to high sodium levels in the water.
The Chao Phraya river has become too low to keep seawater out. This has resulted in residents only being able to drink a limited amount of water due to high salt levels. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend that individuals do not intake more than 200-250mg of sodium per litre.
According to Thailand’s Metropolitan Waterworks Authority (MWA) tap water currently contains 150mg.
Thailand is home to 68 million people, 11 million work in agriculture. Thailand is the world’s biggest exporter in rice.
The government established a national command centre under the Office of the National Water Resources 7 January to address the drought situation. The government is also pleading farmers to refrain from cultivating off-season crops due to lack of water supply. "I would like to plead to rice growers that we are in shortage of water supply as Thailand needs to save as much water as possible for household consumption and the ecosystem," said Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon.
A downward economic spiral is predicted as the Bank of Aduhya plc says. “Drought could stop people from spending even if they aren’t directly affected,” according to bank’s Chief Economist Somprawin Manprasert.
Efforts are being made to help combat the situation, including investment of over $31 Million USD into water projects. Funding is being added to help complete 1,434 water storage projects across the nation in 54 provinces, aiming to store up to 942M cubic litres.
There is also a plan to divert approximately 500M cubic meters of water from the Mae Klong River to the Chao Phraya river to tackle the drought situation.
One Thailand dam in particular, Pasak Cholasit, has experienced its lowest level since 2015 which recorded a height of 33.2 cm above sea level. This has now dropped several centimetres below this mark according to Supachai Manokarn the Director at the Pasak Chonlasit irrigation dam.
However, spirits are lifted at the Pasak Cholasit dam as a lost temple has re-appeared for the first time in 20 years. It had a brief appearance in 2015 but has fully re-emerged encouraging people to come and pray and visit the lost temple.
Thailand Prime Minister Prayth Chan-Ocha has urged people to shower less and turn off taps to cope with drought: “ “Please all help save water. “Turn off all the taps. Use less water” Prayuth said. “Reduce tooth-brushing and shower time by one minute.”