Prayut orders army to be on alert

Prayut orders army to be on alert

Severe drought in North raises concerns

Dry bites: Cows graze on what was previously a rice field in Suphan Buri's U Thong district. The prolonged drought, which has forced many farmers to stop growing rice in Suphan Buri, is worsening across several provinces.
Dry bites: Cows graze on what was previously a rice field in Suphan Buri's U Thong district. The prolonged drought, which has forced many farmers to stop growing rice in Suphan Buri, is worsening across several provinces.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has instructed the armed forces to provide help in areas affected by drought, a situation which may be made worse by the test run of Xayaburi dam on the Mekong River in Laos.

Gen Prayut, also the defence minister, expressed "grave concern" over the situation in the North and the Northeast, assistant defence spokesman Phatchasak Patirupanon said yesterday, though the premier did not specifically point to the impact from the dam test.

Eight provinces located along the river in the two regions -- Chiang Rai, Loei, Nong Khai, Beung Kan, Nakhon Phanom, Mukdahan, Ubon Ratchathani and Amnat Charoen -- are likely to bear the brunt if the hydroelectric trial, which started last Monday, continues until July 29 as planned.

Much of the North and Northeast have become arid due to a lack of moist air from the North Pole and Pacific Ocean, known as the El Nino effect.

On Friday, the Office of National Water Resources wrote to the Lao government, asking it to suspend the test.

The 1,260-megawatt Xayaburi dam, located just south of Luang Prabang in Xayaburi province, is scheduled to begin churning out electricity this October, with the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) being its major power buyer.

"The armed forces have been told to look for drought-affected areas so it can provide immediate help," Col Phatchasak said, referring to Gen Prayut's order.

Relief measures include sending army water trucks to drought-stricken areas, Col Phatchasak said. The air force will also work with agriculture officials to make artificial rain near reservoirs, which continue to suffer from low water levels.

"Rain is now a past memory," Athit Phanasun, chief of a Nong Khai environmental group, said after many areas in his province have seen no rain for over a month even though it should have been a soaking wet period.

Nong Khai's Muang district on the side of the Mekong now sees its riverbank extend almost to the middle of a section of the river, following the recent rapid decrease in its water level, he said.

The Xayaburi dam test will only make things worse, Mr Athit added.

In Chiang Rai, residents are complaining over a drop of water level in the Mekong. They are also worried about the dam operations upstream in Laos.

"Water levels are even lower than they usually get during dry season," tourist boat operator On Unsaeng said.

Farmers in Nakhon Ratchasima are also suffering. Their rice crops in paddy fields covering almost 200,000 rai in Phimai district are wilting and dying as the severe drought takes a toll.

Governor Wichian Chantharanothai yesterday reported that water sources in the district are running dry.

"Unless it rains this month, the crops will be decimated," said the governor, adding water trucks had been sent to drought-hit areas to provide temporary relief.


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