Drought plans need revamp

Drought plans need revamp

Despite the government foreseeing the likelihood of the worst drought crisis in 40 years, and announcing a plan to tackle it last year, several measures being implemented over the past month to deal with water scarcity appear to be knee-jerk and impromptu in nature.

Back in August last year, the Prayut Chan-o-cha administration came up with measures to handle water scarcity that had hit several provinces at the time.

The measures included artificial rainmaking, geographical surveys of areas with water shortages, adjusting the management of four dams and digging ground water wells.

Later in the same month, the authorities predicted that the country will likely face a severe water shortage due to low levels of water in major reservoirs and a shorter rainy season.

Again in late December, the government issued another drought warning.

However, there has not been much progress since then.

Over the past month, the government did take some action and announced that 3 billion baht will be spent to combat water shortages in vulnerable areas.

Early last month, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon revealed a mega-project to build 500 artesian wells in drought-hit areas, even though this plan was announced in August last year and should have been completed by now. This week he said 20 of the 500 planned wells are ready.

Recently, the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry said it will build 421 additional water-storage facilities, when in reality these facilities should have been built prior to the arrival of last year's rainy season, so people could have stored water ahead of time.

Building them now means storing rain water will have to wait until the next rainy season.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Thursday again announced that the water level in the country's 15 main reservoirs was critically low and warned the public of a worsening drought.

He also claimed that 368 billion baht has been spent on water-management and storage projects under his government's 2015-2019 master water plan.

This is not including the 9.4 billion baht that has been earmarked in the 2020 fiscal budget bill for 1,434 water projects in 54 provinces to store additional water before the rainy season.

However, it still remains to be seen how these wells, storage facilities and other water projects play out. What is certain at this point is that the water-shortage crisis will hit people hard, especially farmers, and further worsen the already sluggish economy.

With so many big-spending projects, the government could have achieved more, especially since the Office of the National Water Resources (ONWR) was established under the 2018 Water Resources Act to act as a central body to coordinate water-management efforts among various government agencies.

However, it is still unclear how the ONWR has functioned and whether or not its establishment has helped the authorities get through red tape and unite the traditionally fragmented water-management divisions in different state agencies.

For now, it is important that the government start rethinking how they plan to deal with water shortage and distribution, and how they plan to integrate these plans with the weather predictions.

They may also need to adopt innovative, holistic and long-term water management strategies, instead of only dealing with crises when the arise.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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