WATER SUPPLY: 70% of total farmland to be irrigated

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Bt200-billion plan to be implemented over next four years

Up to 70 per cent of Thai farmland will be irrigated within the next four years, up from just 23 per cent today, if the government’s massive Bt200-billion initiative to improve water supply and distribution is implemented, said Natural Resources and the Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti.

Suwit said Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday assigned government agencies to draw up development plans for each of the country’s 25 river basins to improve the management of water supply distribution for households, agriculture and industry.

The Ping and Moon river basins in the North and Northeast, respectively, have been chosen for pilot projects aimed at improving agricultural productivity and output, he said.

Suwit said that out of 131 million rai of farmland in Thailand, more than 30 million rai, or 22.9 per cent, can be classified as perfect and semi-perfect irrigated areas. Under the plan, irrigated land could be increased to 60-70 per cent of the total, he said.

The remaining farmland would have to continue to rely on underground water sources, adjusting farming methods as required, or farming could even be halted altogether, said the minister.

Government spokesman Jakrapob Penkair said the premier ordered water management to be considered a national priority. The plan will be included among the government policies that will be presented to Parliament shortly after the inauguration of the new administration.

Jakrapob said the plan would include not only water management for agriculture, but also household supplies and wastewater management.

Despite the huge expenditure required, Jakrapob said the premier had insisted that the project was worthwhile, considering the fact that farmers in existing irrigated areas have three times the income of those outside.

Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Wan Muhamad Noor Matha said the country has sufficient water for its requirements, but 80 per cent currently flows out to sea, and only 20 per cent is stored, spurring the need for more efficient water management and storage.

Meanwhile, to help alleviate the current drought situation, the agriculture minister said the Cabinet at its meeting next Tuesday would approve an Bt800-million budget to dig wells for 4,628 affected villages.

Pichaya Changsorn

The Nation

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Water shortages hit two more provinces

Suphan Buri and Nakhon Si Thammarat are the latest provinces to face water shortages, which have occurred much sooner than anticipated this year, officials said.

Water shortages typically occur in late March or in April, but several provincial administrations, including those in Suphan Buri, Phrae and Nakhon Si Thammarat, have already reported problems.

Thongthos Nokchan, chief of irrigation and maintenance at the Krasiew Dam in Suphan Buri’s Dan Chang district, said the water level in the dam had become too low following weeks of inadequate rainfall.

The dam usually holds about 200 million cubic metres of water. Only 39 million cubic metres currently remain.

“The water level in the dam has reached crisis level now,” Thongthos said.

Suphan Buri governor Songpol Thimasat said farmers in the province were ordered not to plant their second crops of rice because there would not be enough water for their fields.

Suphan Buri Provincial Administrative Organisation president Noppadol Martsri said authorities were getting ready to send water trucks out to distribute consumable water to people in Dan Chang, Nong Ya Sai and Don Chedi districts.

Nakhon Si Thammarat governor Wichom Thongsong said he had declared the water shortage situation in the province a disaster so that the provincial administration could bypass normal regulations to help local people.

Wichom said the water shortage in Nakhon Si Thammarat this year was the worst in six years.

He said the provincial administration was still surveying the exact amount of farmland affected by the water shortage and would draft a plan to provide artificial rain to help farmers.

Phrae, which was one of the first provinces hit by a water shortage, has already seen its farmers quarrelling over water rationing for farming.

Farmers in areas downstream of the irrigation dam in Phrae’s Muang district complained that the water never reached them as farmers further upstream had drained the water as soon as it was released from a dam.

The quarrels prompted Muang district chief Chawalit Mekchamroen to call a meeting of village heads and kamnan to try to reach new measures on how to ration water for farming yesterday but no agreement was reached.

Meanwhile, an official from the Ground Water Resources Department, who asked not to be named, voiced concern that people living on the Andaman coast in the six tsunami-affected provinces could suffer from water shortages in April if the department did not receive a budget to repair and dig underground water wells by the end of this month.

The official said the department was still awaiting the Bt42 million the government had approved for the Local Administration Department to use in the digging and fixing of wells. He said the Ground Water Resources Department had to fix 850 underground water wells, and dig 115 new wells for the six provinces.

Published on February 25, 2005