By Piyaporn Wongruang
Bangkok, Thailand, February 1, 2016
As of Tuesday, the combined amount of usable water retained in seven major dams, including Bhumibol and Sirikit, that feed the Central plains stood at around 3,300 million cubic metres, or 18 per cent of their combined capacity of around 24,700 million cu.
The National Water Resources Committee (NWRC) came up with this figure at the end of November as it does every year, and after seeing these numbers, I must say it is of serious concern and I wonder how we will be able to survive yet another drought.
After meeting the NWRC on Monday, the authorities instructed concerned officials to review the possibility of drawing water from the Salween on the West and the Mekong on the East to fill our fast depleting dams.
I’m just wondering if this will really pull us out of our water problems. Water diversion has always been one of the solutions engineered to tackle drought issues here in Thailand, but after following this issue for over a decade, I’ve learned that this and several other related projects have been “dusted off ambitions”.
Though diverting water from the Salween River may not pose much of a challenge as it only runs through Thailand and Myanmar, but pumping water from the Mekong may be a bit more complicated because there are not two, but six countries that have to share this river. The Mekong River Commission (MRC) seems to have been working well in modernising rules and regulations to help regulate this river and the use of its resources, with all diversions being controlled in some way.
Unfortunately, the rules are far too weak to cope with the rising demand for water, and Thailand, which is in a desperate state, is determined to rely on the river’s stocks. The MRC, the only body regulating the river, states that all neighbouring countries have to be notified in advance if any water is diverted from the river, though this cannot guarantee the avoidance of any adverse impacts as this rule does not require anything serious other than a notification.
Pumping water out of rivers, apart from having an adverse environmental impact, can also trigger conflicts between countries. Also, since river-bank erosion is one of the most serious and immediate threats, few countries go for this option. Therefore, the biggest question at his point is whether it is time for Thailand to come up with a sustainable solution as well as an integrated water-management system instead of suffering every time the country is hit by drought. To ensure that there is enough water for everybody, well-planned management of water stocks is one thing, but what is really necessary is a holistic view for a more sustainable solution. In order to achieve that, each individual needs to change their water-wasting behaviour so proper water-management can have a chance. Otherwise it will become very difficult for us to escape from the scarcity of water and clashes with others.
Image: Piyawat Hirunwatanasuk