Bangkok– The long dry spell is threatening to turn into a national emergency in several countries in and aroundSouth-east Asia. In Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, southern China and Laos, wells and reservoirs have dried up, crops have died, governments have declared disaster zones and, in some cases, communities are going hungry.
Thailand, which isheavily dependent on agriculture, is wrestling with one of its worst droughts in years. The dry spell now affects more than one in seven of the country's 62 million people.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has acknowledged that the drought would affect economic growth but said his government could do little to salvage devastated crops.
Large dams are only at 40 per cent capacity or below, the Agriculture Ministry said, while four reservoirs in north-easternThailandhave reported critical capacity levels.
InMalaysia, more than 6,000 rice farmers are affected. Rain is not expected until late this month.
Some experts, blaming the El Nino weather phenomenon, say the Mekong Delta could face its worst drought in a century.
Vietnamhas been hit both in the delta and the central region.In thecentral provinces, 1.3 million people have faced shortages of clean water since December.
InCambodia, at least one million of the country's 13 million people face food shortages.
While much ofIndonesiais currently experiencing the rainy season, drought has hit theprovinceofEast Nusa Tenggara, affecting 10 of the province's 16 districts and municipalities.
InChina, the southernGuangdongprovince andHainanare said to be suffering their worst drought in more than 50 years.
* S-E Asia withering under drought (The Straits Times, March 17)