français    español
GIEWS Update-detail
FAO/GIEWS Global Watch

25 March 2010

Drought in Southeast Asia affects parts of Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand,Lao PDR, Cambodia and Viet Nam

Since early November 2009 rainfall has been consistently below long term average in Southeast Asia, particularly causing drought in parts of Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia and Viet Nam (see Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1: Anomaly (mm) from estimated rainfall (RFE) – 7 Year climatology

Figure 2: Percent soil moisture


Currently a secondary cropping season for rice is underway in most countries in the region, except in Bangladesh and Viet Nam where the current season is the most important one. It is also a season for winter crops such as wheat in some countries (see Table 1 for the calendar of current main crops). Because this is generally a low rainfall period in most countries, compared to the wet season that will start later in the summer from May onwards, the crops gown are typically irrigated. Low rainfall has however reduced river flows and other water supplies necessary for irrigation in many parts. River side farming practices and fishing activities, in particular, have suffered this year due to low levels of water flows affecting livelihood of dependent communities.

Table 1: Crop calendar - Main cropping activities during this current season in the countries in the region

Mekong River water levels at present, for example, according to the Mekong River Commission CEO, have been lowest in 20 years. Mekong River flows through six countries, namely, China, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Thailand, Cambodia and Viet Nam, covers some 4350 km and affects livelihood of more than 60 million people living by the river side. Droughts in summer and floods during wet season along the Mekong River are a long term environmental concern possibly exacerbated by a pronounced El Nino event this year and the increased number of dams upstream.

Contribution of the current secondary paddy season in the annual production varies a great deal in different countries accounting for 15 percent in Lao PDR, 18 to 20 percent in Myanmar, 20 to 25 percent in Cambodia and 25 to 30 percent in Thailand.

In Thailand due to much reduced precipitation since the beginning of February and so far in March, the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation has declared 19 provinces in the North and Northeast and 13 in the Central and East regions as drought affected. In addition to adverse weather, damage by brown plant hopper is also reported. Based on FAO estimates, the current second season paddy harvest may hover around 7 million tonnes, down by about 1.4 million tonnes from 2008/09 and from 1.8 million tonnes from 2007/08.

Low water levels in the Viet Nam’s Mekong River Delta, the country’s rice bowl, have resulted in inward flow of salt water increasing the salinity in the river water endangering rice paddy and other winter-spring crops on about 620 000 hectares.

The full extent of damage to crop yields due to the drought is not yet clear but several localized crop failures are reported. The drought situation and its impact on the winter-spring crops are still evolving and needs to be watched and assessed carefully.