Political interference in water management to support the rice-pledging scheme and poor dam management are to blame for the current water crisis, an expert at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) says.
Nipon Poapongsakorn, a TDRI distinguished fellow, said the current water shortage has its origin in the mega-flood that hit the country in 2011.
In the wake of the disastrous flooding, the Yingluck Shinawatra government adopted a policy to maintain low water levels in the Sirikit dam in Uttraradit and the Bhumibol dam in Tak, to create capacity to collect water during heavy downpours.
Later in 2013, the Yingluck government introduced the rice-pledging scheme, which significantly increased rice planting in the Central region and required a large amount of water for paddy fields.
The Royal Irrigation Department (RID) came under political pressure to discharge water from dams to feed rice shoots, which meant water usually kept for future use was spent in advance to help farmers plant rice even in the dry season.
“El Nino is not the prime factor for the water crisis. It is the failure of the water management policy. Drought and flooding are related problems and cannot be managed separately,” Mr Nipon said yesterday.
He was speaking at a seminar on water management policy proposals organised by the TDRI and the International Development Research Centre.
Mr Nipon called for better management of water resources.
Adis Israngkura, a TDRI adviser, proposed that compensation be paid to people in non-protected flood zones to avoid a confrontation with people in protected areas.
He cited the case of Thoong Prapimon in Nakhon Pathom, where the Interior Ministry spent over 2.5 billion baht following the 2011 disaster on raising the height of a road to protect people living on one side from flooding. However, those on the other side of the road are unprotected, he said.
Conflict is likely to erupt between those living in the two adjacent zones when the next severe flood occurs, so the government must be fair to people living in nonprotected zones, he added.
Thongplew Kongjun, director of RID’s Office of Water Management and Hydrology, admitted the department is facing difficulties in water resource management as supply and demand patterns have changed.
The increase in rice cultivation areas from 300,000 rai in 1969 to 9.5 million rai now causes problems for water management as many farmers plant rice three times a year instead of twice.
He said the department has held talks with state agencies and concluded that rainfall this year will be 10% less than average but will be more intense from the end of this month to October.
If the amount of rainfall this year is 10% less than average, there will be around 3.2-3.9 billion cubic metres of water collected in dams, Mr Thongplew said.
The department needs to have at least 3.5 billion cu/m stored in dams for next year – 1.1 billion for consumption, 1.4 billion for ecological conservation and one billion for farmers, he added.
First published in Bangkok Post, 2 July 2015