Prayut floats water bill waiver for Surin locals
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has proposed waiving water bills for residents of central Surin affected by drought.
The prime minister insisted the proposal is not a populist measure but is intended to ease the burden on Surin city residents who have been suffering from water shortages for weeks.
"People are beset by grievances. They turn on their tap only to have air come out of the pipe. Why should they be paying for water that isn't there?" he said, noting that where taps were still running, the water was murky and unfit for consumption.
The prime minister, who was touring Surin and neighbouring Buri Ram on Monday to see the water situation for himself, said the water-bill waiver will be taken up for discussion with the Interior Ministry, which oversees the Provincial Waterworks Authority.
The government has launched urgent measures to curb the effects of the drought, which is hitting Muang district particularly hard.
Gen Prayut was scheduled to visit Huai Lam Puen and Huai Saneng, two key major reservoirs in Buri Ram and Surin, on Monday. Both reservoirs are running critically low, with Huai Lam Puen down to just 1% of usable water, according to the Royal Irrigation Department (RID).
Last week, state-run Surin Hospital, which serves Surin and adjacent provinces, set up a crisis centre to deal with the shortage. The hospital said it was only receiving 10% of the 800,000 to 1 million litres of water it needed daily.
Artesian wells were then dug at the hospital as the Public Health Ministry instructed staff there to devise a water-management plan involving sustainable reserves.
On Monday, Gen Prayut said authorities were planning to arrange for up to 4,000 artificial rain-making flights to raise water levels in natural sources in Surin and nearby provinces.
In the meantime, RID director-general Thongplew Kongjun said water was being diverted from Ratchamongkol reservoir and the privately owned Bor Hin pond to raise levels at Huai Saeng reservoir. Plans are also being made to expand natural water-catchment ponds to improve water distribution in the province.
Manit Sangphum, a Pheu Thai Party MP for Surin, suggested the government approve a two-year debt moratorium for drought-stricken farmers.