Govt set to help drought-hit farmers
Additional water storage to be built
The Royal Irrigation Department (RID) will have to turn on its taps to provide water to farmers who defied warnings regarding water shortages, according to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon.
"We will try our best to limit damage to rice in paddy fields. We will not let them die. We will allocate water to rice paddies but the water will be provided based on actual needs and real necessity," Gen Prawit said on Friday at the launch of a water management command centre.
He made the comments amid conflicts over water after farmers in drought-stricken areas ignored government demands to halt rice cultivation in exchange for monetary compensation.
The government has warned farmers since last year that water storage in reservoirs is sufficient only for consumption and feeding the ecosystem. The RID has repeatedly said that it cannot supply water to farm areas especially those in major river basins such as the Chao Phraya.
Since 2017, the government has ordered farmers in drought-stricken areas to stop farming in exchange for compensation. The measure proved successful thanks to the power of the military-installed government.
However, the warning this time did not win full cooperation. According to information from the RID, 3.86 million rai of rice crops countrywide were planted in the dry season, of which 2.61 million rai is under irrigation systems with half of these farms along the Chao Phraya River basin.
RID chief Thongplew Kongchan said farmers were made fully aware that the department could not guarantee water for rice planting during the dry season.
"Some farmers turned a deaf ear to the warning. Nevertheless, the department will assist them as much as it can," he said.
While some farms will be fed water, only those in close proximity to RID irrigation zones will have a high chance of survival, he added.
Meanwhile, agriculture officials are also looking to build several thousand ponds and kaem ling (monkey cheeks) water-retention areas countrywide as a measure to ease dry conditions that have already turned 18 provinces into disaster zones.
The plan, which is intended to help farmers store rainwater is expected to take off in the second half of this year and priority will be given to 18 provinces where estimated damage of at least 950 million baht has been reported.
The water storage facilities, to be located outside irrigation areas, will comprise 40,000 ponds on farmland and 400 kaem ling. They will add water to fields after the RID's plan to supply water from rivers and major reservoirs for farming and household consumption ends in April.
According to the Meteorological Department, the rainy season will start in late May; however, freak weather may cause a delay until July.
"More rain will be seen in August and we must store it for next year," Agriculture Minister Chalermchai Sri-on said on Friday.