Aside from the economic crisis, the news in Thailand has been dominated by reports of this year’s drought. Drought is common, but this cycle is particularly bad.
The most recent severe drought happened almost 20 years ago during El Niño, the phenomenon caused by shifts in Pacific trade winds and ocean temperatures. El Niño is back this year; its full force is still to be felt and has the potential to be strong and last until next March. Thai people, therefore, should become more aware about climate change and its interaction with cyclical weather patterns to better adapt to current and future hazards.
Since the last rainy season in 2014, Thailand has had far less precipitation than usual. This is worrying as at the end of October 2014, when the last rainy season ended, large dams were at already at a level considered critically low. Since then international and national experts have warned that drought will affect the important rice growing areas of Thailand’s central plain. The Royal Irrigation department has announced it is stopping water supply for double-crop field planting until October 7 2015. This is because the priorities for water allocation are now human and industrial consumption, and environmental protection. This is to meet increasing demand from urban populations, and the economically critical tourism and manufacturing industries. As a result, the agrarian sector and farmers’ livelihoods lose out.
Thailand’s winter ends in January. The rainy season usually begins in the middle of May, sometimes as late as the beginning of June. But this year rain only began lightly falling in August.
Most of this year's rain has fallen below the dams, which means they are not recharging and water still remains largely inaccessible to water managers attempting to alleviate drought response. Farmers are therefore often unable to grow rice, water stresses across the country continue, and desiccated river banks are collapsing silting up rivers.
Effects or the drought are also felt in cities. There is insufficient water supply to meet demand in Bangkok and its peripheries. The Metropolitan Waterworks Authority has had to reduce water pressure at night. In Phatumthani Province water is only available at certain times of day. In some places consumers complain of a brackish taste to tap water because of sea water infiltration.
The ongoing prolonged summer of 2015 and El Niño has affected the entire country. Thailand needs to take lessons from the current drought and to prepare for similar events in the future. The country needs to understand that climate change is going to cause more crises and it needs to learn and adapt.