Drought has never been a problem for me, for most of us. But it is becoming one, a significant one.
In fact, the World Economic Forum announced in January that the water crisis is the number one global risk based on impact to society (as a measure of devastation). That’s some serious stuff.
Here in Thailand we have been brought up with the romanticised notion that our waters are always abundant with fish and our fields with rice. Unfortunately, just as the 13th century King Ramkhamhaeng stele on which this beloved statement is carved has been subject to controversy as to its authenticity, so is the validity of said aphorism in face of Thailand’s worst drought in two decades.
Gone are the cacophonies of rambunctious toads which used to be our childhood lullaby through the heavy monsoon months. Channeled into complex city drains are the gentle floods which seeped and soaked into our city’s pores, sending gleeful children home from school for extended holidays every October. Long forgotten are the days when rain would fall like clockwork at four and stop like a startled rooster at six, accommodatingly in time for a pre-dinner gin and tonic.
With the expansions of villages, towns and cities, with the ruthless uprooting of forests and global climate change, our seasons are no longer recognisable. And according to most sources, they will continue to act in weird, wacky, unpredictable and downright destructive ways until we are all in serious trouble.
Agriculture is responsible for the use of over 70% of Thailand’s national water supplies, according to The Water Project, which also says that water scarcity will hit Thailand hard by 2025 – that’s firmly in our lifetime people! Reuters recently reported that Thailand’s off season rice crop this year will drop by 30% due to the drought. The government has also upped our drought alleviation budget from last year’s 430 million to 6.8 billion baht this year. You’d think with these numbers that a national drought was as important as acquiring a new 32 billion baht submarine to tilt at our many adversarial windmills. Oh, wait…
I am sure that the rains will come, late as they are. Our dams will soon fill as rapidly as talks of drought seeps away. And like those noxious wind particles every April, all will be forgotten, our worries washed aside with the first rains.
But praying for rain, costly rain seeding missions and blind destruction of our environment are not going to solve the problem for future generations, let alone for 2025. The crisis is here and we need leaders with vision and strength to put some measures in place to make sure that our volatile seasons’ various resources are well managed and most importantly, sustainable. The Irrigation Department is a very top down, centralised department which makes unilateral decisions on the use of Thailand’s water resources. Perhaps a good start would be to set up a more integrated water management system involving villages and agriculture groups so that a more practical, and bottoms up approach, to water resource management can be used.
I am no water expert, and I have no solutions. But I am worried, and I think that we should all be. So, let’s keep the conversation going, even when that massive cloud that has been hovering, teasingly, over the city for the past few months, finally bursts upon us.
Fingers crossed, and carry a brolly.
Citylife this month:
Aydan Stuart delves much deeper into Thailand’s water crisis this month in the beginning of a two-part series we will complete next month. Dustin Covert has been very busy exploring his new passion, cycling, in his efforts to help turn Chiang Mai into a bike-friendly city. He also visits famed artist Kamin Lertchaiprasert and talks about his latest projects. And most excitingly of all (or so I have been repeatedly told, did I say repeatedly?) was his and Aydan’s visit to the National Astronomy Research Institute of Thailand (NARIT), which apparently rocked. Our lovely intern, Samsuda Khem-nguad, who is studying at Cornell University, has also written a charming piece about the dying trades of mending. Check them out.
And please help us to continue our efforts from July to fight the proliferation of signs and billboards in Chiang Mai by visiting our Facebook page Sign City Chiang Mai.