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31 Jan, 2016

Thai Prime Minister warns of water shortage: “Please help restore balance in Nature”

The weekly National Broadcast by Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha on January 22, 2016 was devoted almost entirely to the looming national water shortage. He confined himself to highlighting the impact on agriculture but warned that everyone will have to get involved in water conservation. That includes the nearly 32 million visitors projected to visit Thailand this year. So far, no-one has calculated that per capita consumption of water by tourists, but some NGOs are known to be putting some estimates together. The figure may come as a shock to the system, and will certainly put pressure on the travel & tourism industry to start cutting back.

Taking up the Prime Minister’s cue, Travel Impact Newswire is the first travel industry publication to put out an early warning alert. The PM’s remarks on the water shortage are reproduced here in full.

National Broadcast by General Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister – January 22, 2016

The next issue concerns water management for agriculture. There have been a lot of complaints about the drought. The government has been informing and reminding you that we will face water scarcity this year. It is happening right now. The drought could drag on until next year. Please listen to us. We have been warning you for a long time. Sometimes, upstream water does not reach farmers living downstream of the river.

The next problem is the invasion of salt water. This problem is being caused by excessive saltwater fish and shrimp farming in agricultural zones without thinking of consequences. Authorities need to talk to the farmers. We prefer not to use law enforcement on something like this You need to grow less produce and use less water. You cannot grow on the land you illegally invaded on the assumption that what you grow are economic crops. You will not be able to sell your crops and you are destroying the land. The saltiness spreads widely, making impossible to grow other crops. This is the problem if saltwater is used in agricultural zones. The same goes to freshwater fish farming.

This kind of farming requires lots of water. I know I cannot stop you. But I ask you to balance it out. Everyone needs to learn to solve their own problems. Please help to restore balance in the nature. When things go wrong, it will be difficult to fix. The ecosystem and natural resources will be afflicted.

As for the matter of rice farming, before I took office, farmers had been growing rice at the excessive amount. They overused the soil and the land. Farmers didn’t grow quality rice on the right kind of soil. Rice with good quality is now mixing with substandard rice. In some areas, rice grains that use to have big and long kernels become smaller, shorter, and have lower standards. The scent and the taste are also different. This is because farmers grow substandard rice on soil that is meant for quality rice. Rice with short life cycle should not be grown on in-season land. This causes problems to the whole sector. It may take up to 10 years to complete eradicate this kind of problem.

The next matter is about addressing the drought problem. Many people question the government’s measures to tackle the drought. I have talked about this many times. I have asked for cooperation. We have issued a number of measures. We have spent a large sum of money.

We understand that water is an important substance for consumption and agriculture. Water is essential to all crops and all industries. Water can also help us maintain the balance of the ecosystem as well as push saltwater away. You may complain that there is too much saltwater. This is because we don’t have enough freshwater to push saltwater away.

When the sea rises, saltwater goes deeper into land. We only use fresh water when necessary. We are doing the best we can. Whenever we release freshwater, it will be used along the way before it gets to saltwater. Water released is used for rice farming. How are we going to every fight saltwater intrusion if this keeps happening? Please understand this before it’s too late.

The government had issued assistance measures for the past two years. We have tried to educate the farmers, change farming behaviors, promote joint plantations, and promote cattle ranching.

There are quite a few farmers who changed themselves and have been cooperating with the government. They improve and make technology useful to them.

However, there are a large number of farmers who refuse to do what we suggest, because they are too familiar with the old method. They don’t want to accept change and deny new knowledge. Today, everything has to go in the same direction. I understand that rice is your pride. But what shall the government do when your crops don’t yield any profits. Please don’t only wait for the government to act on your problems.

I am very concerned about the provinces declaring themselves drought-hit zones. How can the whole province have no water? I will send teams to find out what really is going on. They will find out if the whole province or just certain areas that are drought-stricken. Water for consumption and water for agriculture are two different things. If water for agriculture is scarce, that area should not be declared a drought zone.

Some areas need drinking water while some areas need water for produce. Some areas need water to feed cattle. These are all for different purposes. You need to designate these areas according to their needs, because they will never have the same need.

We cannot have all 77 provinces be declared drought-affected areas. How is the government going to respond? Please make it right and make it clear. I ask that regional and local offices regularly check their areas. The NCPO will check all areas if necessary. We need to find out what sort of assistance do people in each area need. Some matters may need government’s attention while some may not.

Each problem is different. We cannot fix problems assuming everything is the same. Where is the government going to get the money from?

At present, you all know that we have limited amount of freshwater. We acquire water from dams, reservoirs inside and outside irrigation zones, and water basins in various parts of the country. For many years, rains do not fall in places where we can store water. Most of the rains fall downstream of dams. This is why we have less water while demand rises. Please help us. You cannot keep using unlimited amount of water for agriculture. Please be reasonable about this. As I said before, all the water released from dams is used for agriculture. This creates an oversupply of crops in the market. Even when all your crops die, you keep on growing them.

I know that you are used to fixing problems the same way and keep thinking that the government will compensate for your loss. When are we going to improve? Today, problems must be addressed first. Rest assured that we already have a long term plan in place. Inner parts of the land are normally water scarce. Outer parts are also dry because the inner parts use all the water.

If everyone had listened and cooperated, everything would have been better. The government incorporated water management plans that covered all activities. These plans are now being implemented. New reservoirs are being constructed. Old reservoirs are too far away from agricultural zones. There were no effective irrigation systems. This sort of restructuring needs a large sum of money. Everything was not effective in the past.

We had an idea that we could add water in rivers into dams. But some people were against the idea. This is why we need to work together. The government does not wish to enforce the law or utilize Article 44 for every single issue. Thais have to take care of each other. The whole system must be overhauled. This ranges from production and processing, to marketing and exporting. This is how sustainability can be ensured. Should everything be fixed today, the country will be a lot more revenue. Same goes to other reform plans, these plans should clearly state the duties of responsible agencies, so that we have a clear guideline of what we are responsible for. These plans should go according to the government’s policies and strategies. All of these need to be stipulated in all reform plans. Now, it is up to the next administration whether these plans will continue.

There needs to be an understanding between related working groups of what the NCPO’s and the reform agenda’s roadmaps are. If there is no understanding, they can’t implement the policies. Today I want to report on the progress of tap water. There used to be 7-8 thousand locations that had no tap water. Today, the government has reduced that number to 4 thousand and will complete the project in 2017. This is what we’ve done. The digging of large wells needs to utilize new equipment instead of hiring manual labor. Otherwise you’ll only have enough to drink and consume but not enough for agriculture. However, if we dig too much, we will lose our underground water sources and will be forced to dig deeper next dear. We need to preserve the level of underground water. If we dig too fast, it will deplete quickly. Therefore we need to distinguish between water for consumption and for agriculture. We need to use land appropriately and be economic with the use of water. Other countries are using drip irrigation. Some countries have no source of water but are able to plant. They’ve been doing this for decades and have pioneered many ventures. They’ve done this through innovation, resilience, learning and utilizing technology. Most importantly, farmers and the authorities need to cooperate, be self-sufficient listen to the suggestions of the state. Whatever you can do on your own, the state will step in to help on at all stages.

We have revisited the entire plan by the committee on water management despite recent revisions. We revisited long term goals that aren’t being achieved at this time so that we can move forward with them now. Why do we do this? To accommodate the next rainy season and the planting season. It’s a problem if there is little water, but it will be an even bigger problem if there is no planning. Therefore we must create small water sources in all areas: digging canals and utilizing public resources and ponds. Perhaps we need to examine whether routes that are being constructed are blocking water shades that are trying to funnel water into reservoirs. We need to examine housing projects and roads. If they don’t have proper drainage systems or bridges, it can cause flooding and also block proper water funneling. All Ministries need to work together. Everyone needs to use water wisely in all activities, whether it is the public in its consumption or the agricultural sector. We also need to funnel out salt water; otherwise we won’t be able to plant anything. Also, if people at different parts of water streams fight for water, it may escalate into conflicts over water. It would then be problematic for the government to step in as force can also be problematic. Therefore, we can only warn that any new planting now can be ruined due to limited water supply. It takes 3-4 months and minimum to grow crops and more than 6 months sometimes. Therefore please consider this.

It is the government’s duty to care for the public and provide it with water. It is necessary at this time to conduct hybrid farming. The government will make revisions to water distribution, budgeting and will be more strategic by mobilizing soldiers along with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Natural Resources. We need to overhaul the country’s water management plan to coincide with existing supplies and adjust planting according to domestic and international demand for certain crops. Otherwise, the price of crops will fall. Hybrid farms can consist of various crops and livestock. His Majesty the King has had a Royal initiative on this a long time ago. If we don’t work together, it can be dangerous because of depleting water and lack of rain due to climate change. Lots of forest lands that retain water have been destroyed. The country is filled with treeless mountains. Water flows from the North but now the North is filled with treeless mountains. We need to accelerate our reforestation efforts. However, it takes up to 20-30 years to plant trees. Therefore, we need to, in the meantime, use less water and utilize new technologies. The government is ready to assist the public on these things, so please visit your local municipalities and learning centers to learn more about these new practices.

I’ve asked television and radio channels to broadcast the government’s policies, how it budgets for projects and how people can address problems in a sustainable way. Farmers who have listened to the government’s advice have adopted hybrid farming practices and now have multiple income sources. On the other hand, people who don’t take advice have continued to suffer. Information is being broadcasted through channel 11, 5 and Parliament Channel. Other channels that are about business or entertainment, I ask that you please also do some educating as well. If you don’t broadcast at all what the government is doing, what problems it is trying to solve and how the public can help and just air trivial content, how then can we live in balance? I ask that the media exercise ethical journalism for the citizens. Anyone who is met with hardship can watch channel 11, 5 or Parliament Channel. I say this because sometimes what I say isn’t aired. Instead, some channels air stories without identifying the problem. The government is addressing all these issues. Therefore, people need to contribute and be receptive to change.

I asked that television and social media channels consider how you can contribute to your country. Please create understanding and educate the public. Why isn’t the public better off? Because past governments have not implemented multilateral reform and don’t offer sustainable solutions. We need to growth public capacity through knowledge, support and understanding. If you don’t help me, many agendas may not be realized.

Today, many agricultural groups are mobilizing and preparing their demands. Some have already submitted petitions. With the rubber price issue, there have been so many demands. If we fix something, they demand something else again. Also, please don’t manipulate people with low income. There’s been demand for a rubber committee. Why? Because you don’t have friends in the current committee? I don’t know. There isn’t even a consensus among groups over what kind of committee they want.

This is Thailand’s problem. There are internal struggles for self-interest. This is a national issue. Let’s consider how we can instead cooperate as a state of the people. Please give the government and the NCPO another year and a half to do its work. Most importantly, this is a time to help reform the country. Some people say nothing has been done. If you join in, you will see what has been done and what else can be done. These things take time and haven’t been done before. We’re in the 1st phase of reform and which will be followed by a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th for the next 20 years. The 5th phase is after 20 years.

I also ask for cooperation on national reform. Please understand that phase 1 of reform started since the NCPO. It will then be followed by more 5 year plans. Therefore, reform must coincide with the 4 phases lasting for a total of 20 years. This is the national strategic plan that we have. It also coincides with our economic development model.

I will cite a phrase that you all are familiar with: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Thailand will be strong and incomes will increase. Inequality and conflict will be reduced. The country will enhance its competitiveness. These things don’t happen in a few years. When starting, there needs to be a lot of support for the groundwork and building blocks of the foundation. The most important ingredient to the foundation is generosity. It is the generosity to cooperate and to make sacrifices, and not blaming the NCPO for wasted potential, not opposing every move. I’m thinking for the benefit of the public. The people are at the center. The future rests with the next generation.