Thai PM vows to tackle worsening drought

Korat governor alarmed at level of off-season rice farming; 29 provinces now declared drought disaster zones

BANGKOK - Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday expressed concern that drought conditions in many provinces could intensify over the next three months and vowed to continue to pursue long-term solutions focused on sustainable water management.

In her weekly TV programme "Yingluck Government Meets the People", the premier said the government had reviewed its strategies for tackling drought to avoid repeated problems, as 29 provinces have now been declared drought disaster zones.

Saying the government would ensure that people have sufficient water resources for consumption and usage, Yingluck instructed officials to find water sources for farming and encouraged farmers to grow crops that consume less water. As for the long-term solutions, she said the government's Bt350-billion water-management budget covered both flooding and drought issues, adding that a single command operation system, with a provincial governor at the centre, would be applied in drought-hit areas to solve water-management issues.

Deputy Prime Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi said the Water and Flood Management Commission (WFMC) would formulate a flood and drought prevention plan and work with the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department (DPMD) to find water sources and introduce a zoning system to adjust agricultural water usage plans.

Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan said provincial governors and the DPMD would implement the single command system and survey each area's water needs. So far they had found 22,223 drought-affected villages - or 29 per cent of all Thai villages - and determined that 41,000 water tanks were needed.

In related news, Nakhon Ratchasima Governor Winai Buapradit said he was astonished to find that 60,000 rai of farmland in the province was being used as off-season rice fields. Of the province's 32 districts, 29 have been declared drought-hit zones. Saying that Royal rainmaking operations had been hampered by insufficient humidity in the air, he urged officials to tell farmers to save water and not to grow off-season rice using the Lam Takhong, Lam Sae and Lam Mul Bon water sources. Off-season rice farming could proceed in some areas near the Lam Phra Ploeng and Lam Plaimas water sources, provided farmers follow strict conditions, the governor said.

Five villages in Sung Noen district were suffering severe shortages of water for consumption and other uses, so officials had installed water pumps to get water from Lam Takhong into the village tap-water system to aid the affected 1,700 families.

In Muang Udon Thani, water authorities have spent Bt2 million a month to pump water into the tap-water system to combat what they described as the severest drought in 60 years. However, they remained confident that they would be able to provide enough water to people throughout the drought season. |The authorities were also supplied with two boats by the Royal Irrigation Department to excavate canals and set up two giant water pumps at the Huai Luang reservoir, the tap system's major source of raw water.

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