Earth Day Network

Unusual Drought in Thailand Makes High Vulnerability to Climate Change Evident

Thailand is experiencing a peculiar dry season this year. The country’s climate is characterized by a hot season, a dry season, and a monsoon season. However this year’s dry season is compromising the water reserves of Thailand’s capital, Bangkok.

Most of the drinking water that supplies the more than 14 million people in Bangkok is from the Chao Phraya River. The river springs in the city center and flows into the Gulf of Thailand, but during droughts seawater can run upstream, increasing the river’s salinity and preventing the purification of the water by the local water company – unable to treat salty water.

Making matters worse, this year’s hot season was extremely hot leading to below average water reserve levels at the beginning of the dry season.  The governor of the Metropolitan Waterworks Authority, Thanasak Watanathana, warns that if rain does not come to Thailand soon, water stored in the dams will only be enough to supply the city for about 30 more days. He also considered imposing water limits for citizens, however this will particularly affect rice crops, which require large volumes of water and are expected to be low this year. This could trigger protests and economic difficulties, since Thailand is the largest exporter of this commodity.

Thailand’s electric system based on hydroelectricity generation also depends on water supplies. Other consequences of the severe drought are being observed in Pathum Thani province near Bangkok, as 88 road sections have begun cracking and subsiding due to of the low levels of underground water beneath them.

Although Thailand has managed their reservoirs to avoid catastrophic flooding and store water for the dry periods, the current aggravated scenario creates new problems that will only get worse.  The worse drought and floods of the past few decades have occurred just in the past five years.

As climate changes elevating global temperature, water will evaporate faster intensifying the drought at the same time that hot air will have a higher retention capacity leading to severer storms and consequently floods. According to the National Disaster Warning Center of Thailand, most of the Bangkok will be 5 feet below sea level the surface by 2030.

Thailand has acted on climate change since 2008 by shifting to organic agriculture, building a tsunami warning system along the Andaman Sea and a flood prevention wall around Bangkok, and developing an Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and energy use.

However, their solo efforts will not prevent them to face the consequences of global warming if efforts are not taken worldwide. It is time for a global commitment in reducing greenhouse emissions and taking mitigating measures. Unfortunately, the countries having bigger impacts are going to be the ones that are least prepared to cope with them.

Maria Isabel da Matta, Intern