Taiwan president calls for long-term plan to fight droughts, floods

PRESIDENT Ma Ying-jeou yesterday said the government needs long-term planning to deal with droughts and floods, as the island faces its worst water shortage in eight years.

Ma said the current drought is a pressing matter, but the country also needs to be bracing for possible floods to be triggered by typhoons.

"We are fighting droughts on one side, and floods on the other," Ma told a meeting of high-level government officials gathered to tackle the water shortage. "It sounds contradictory, but that is the reality," the president said.

He said such meetings must work out not only short-term measures to the current water problems, but also long-term solutions.

The meeting yesterday did not come up with any long-term solutions.

But earlier in the day, an official said the Water Resources Agency (WRA) is considering revising the water fee structure.

The WRA is mulling increasing the rates during the dry season for big users and giving subsidies to low-volume users, low-income households and underprivileged groups, said Wu Yueh-hsi, deputy director-general of the agency.

Vice Economics Minister Hwang Jung-chiou told lawmakers that if the drought persists until the end of June, water rationing will proceed to the third phase where supply to different zones will have to be rotated.

He said usually there is no need to proceed to the third phase at mid-year, but a fourth-stage rationing may be possible this year.

At the fourth phase, water will be supplied at designated times and places, the vice minister said.

"But Taiwan has never had to implement fourth-phase water rationing," he noted.

Many of Taiwan's reservoirs are drying up. Conservation measures have been in place since February, saving about 100 million tons of water, said the WRA's Wu.

He said such measures had not been in taken, second-stage water rationing would have been implemented as early as April 30, he said.

He said there will be no problem with the water supply to households and industries in the period prior to the Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on June 6 this year.

So far Taiwan has implemented the first-phase water conservation measures, with water pressure to households in certain areas being reduced at night.

The economics ministry has said that if the drought continues for the next two weeks, the second phase of water rationing will have to be implemented in western Taiwan.

The ministry said second-phase rationing will be introduced in Taoyuan, Hsinchu and in Linkou, New Taipei City, becoming effective from May 18.

Starting May 23, Miaoli, Taichung, northern Changhua, Tainan and Kaohsiung will be included, the ministry said.

In the second stage, water for non-critical purposes such as street-cleaning will stop. Water for swimming pools, car washes and saunas, as well as the supply to big users will be cut by 20 per cent, while industrial users will see a five per cent cut.

-The China Post/Asia News Network