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GIEWS Update-detail
Southeast Asia: Drought and Onset of the 2005 Rainy Season

29 April 2005 Update
Since the beginning of the year, irregular and very low rainfall conditions have affected large parts of Southeast Asia, including the Mekong basin region of Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos. In Thailand, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, 9.2 million people have directly suffered from drought conditions. Large dams are only at 40 percent capacity or below, with four reservoirs in the northeast at critically low levels. Rice, coffee, sugar, and other crops were also stressed in China, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. Abundant rainfall will be needed this Summer to recharge the region's depleted reservoirs and produce a normal wet-season harvest in 2005. There has been recent relief from rain in Cambodia, Viet Nam and Thailand, although the latest seasonal forecast by IRI (International Research Institute for Climate Prediction) so far indicates a slightly-enhanced likelihood of below-normal precipitation in central Thailand during the May-July 2005 season.

In recent years, water levels of the Mekong River in China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam have been on a steady decline. The FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific has been preparing a number of measures to assist the countries immediately as well as over the mid- and long-terms.

View recent NDVI maps for the region

Situation by country

Cambodia
Cambodia had its worst drought in recent years, affecting 14 out of 24 provinces and municipalities. Rice production fell in all provinces and half a million people are reportedly facing food shortages. The worst affected being poorer farmers in Prey Veng, Svay Rieng, Takeo and Kompong Speu who own small farms far from streams. Female-headed households and people with HIV/AIDS are also especially vulnerable. There is already some reliance on coping strategies associated with severe crises – men moving to towns to find work, increased borrowing, selling off farmland and livestock, taking children out of school, and eating less. WFP is planning to distribute rice in several provinces, and Oxfam is investigating the need for longer- term programming to strengthen livelihood systems.

Viet Nam
Severe drought in the central and southern provinces may induce food shortages in several provinces. One -tenth of the winter-spring rice crop may be lost. The Ministry of Agriculture in Hanoi confirmed that in the central highlands’ five provinces, 162 500 hectares of cultivated land, mostly coffee, were affected. 1.3 million people have faced shortages and higher prices for clean water since December. Nationwide, the drought is already estimated to have cost over US$60 million. The Government has introduced a raft of measures to combat the effects of drought.

Thailand
Drought has struck 63 of Thailand’s 76 provinces. Dams have dried up, and the shortage of fresh water in four of the major rivers has allowed seawater to contaminate irrigation systems. The Government estimates that one in seven people (9 million) are already affected, mostly farmers of rice, sugar cane and maize. Fruit crops (pineapple, durian and rambutan) are forecast to fall by 10%, as remaining water stocks are being conserved for human consumption. At least 809,000 hectares of farmland are ruined, a loss of 7.4 billion baht (193.2 million dollars), according to Ministry of Interior figures. Thai authorities will reportedly be asking neighbouring countries, especially Laos and Myanmar, to divert water from the Mekong River.

Laos
Laos, where most farming involves subsistence agriculture, is experiencing a drought more severe than last year due to low rainfall and declining water levels in the Mekong River. According to the Government, the 2004 wet-season rice crop was larger than last year’s, but a sharp reduction in the dry season crop (about 25 percent of annual production) was to be expected due to reduced planted area and low water levels.

Myanmar
According to a senior official, Myanmar has not been affected by the Southeast Asia drought. Reports suggest that agricultural production has been normal throughout. While the monsoon ended earlier than usual last year, affecting some late-planted paddy, it brought heavy rainfall and filled irrigation reservoirs. The Department of Meteorology and Hydrology reported normal rainfall during the last year’s monsoon, except in Rakhine, Kachin and Kayah states where it had been above average. Although there was no rain at Meiktila and Nyaung Oo in Mandalay Division and at Hinthada and Pathein in Ayeyar-waddy Division until last month, other areas had received normal or above average precipitation.