The desperate hopes of our northeastern rice farmers for enough rain from tropical storm Son Tinh to spare millions of rai of withering rice crops have been dashed, as the storm already veered northward into southern China after it made landfall in Vietnam a few days ago.
The chances are that the rice plants in most of the rain-fed fields will die unless they are saved by man-made rain. But so far, little has been heard about artificial rain-making operations from the mainstream as well as government-controlled media, as if the looming drought situation in the Northeast is non-existent or a problem not worthy of public attention.
Last week, Science and Technology Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi, who is also chairman of the top-level Water and Flood Management Committee (WFMC), categorically denied that the northeastern region is currently experiencing a drought.
He insisted that the region is just facing a water shortage _ which, he explained, means not enough water for agriculture purposes, but enough water for drinking and household consumption.
Mr Plodprasop also brushed aside any suggestion that the government should be held accountable for the water shortage problem.
There is no doubt that Mother Nature is to blame for not providing adequate rains for the Northeast and that the government should not be held accountable for this. As a matter of fact, many Isan people seem to have accepted that drought is a common phenomenon and have found alternative ways to survive by flocking to the cities to find manual jobs to make a living when their crops fail because of drought or flooding.
But that does not mean the government, or the WFMC in particular, can shy away from their responsibility to ease the water shortage or drought problem in the Northeast. This is especially in light of the fact that about 300 billion baht has been earmarked by the government for water resource management, which not only means flood prevention but also ensuring sufficient water for consumption and other purposes such as industrial and agricultural use in the dry season.
It does not matter at all whether it is justified calling the water situation in the Northeast a drought or just a plain water shortage. What really matters is what the WFMC has been doing to deal with the situation, which became evident several months ago. What are the short-, middle- and long-term projects already in the works to cope with the seemingly perennial water shortage problem in the Northeast and other parts of the country?
Most of the rice farms in the Central Plains have access to irrigation systems, whereas in the Northeast, only 4 million rai out of 64 million are irrigated, leaving most to the mercy of Mother Nature.
Yet little has been heard from the government about megaprojects to irrigate the land for the benefit of the grassroots rural populace. Meanwhile, there is lots of talk about mega-infrastructure projects such as high-speed trains and superhighways.
Last but not least, many Isan farmers will likely miss the chance to benefit from the government's rice pledging scheme simply because they don't have any rice left to pledge _ even for their own consumption.