#DroughtWatch: Isaan Blisters, Mekhong Evaporates, As Planes Try to Make It Rain

Left, part of 10,000 rai of dead rice paddies July 23, 2019 in Nakhon Ratchasima. Right, a dried stretch of the Mekhong July 23, 2019 in Loei.
Left, part of 10,000 rai of dead rice paddies July 23, 2019 in Nakhon Ratchasima. Right, a dried stretch of the Mekhong July 23, 2019 in Loei.

LOEI — Boats crossing the Mekhong from Pak Chom district to Vientiane have been halted, as the once-mighty river has evaporated to rocky puddles.

“The only way a boat can pass now is if the water comes back,” said Suriyan Kumta, a local who makes his living ferrying people across the river. Down the river in Nong Khai, fishermen cannot set out to fish in the shallows.

It’s just the latest unfortunate development in what locals say is the worst drought in 50 years.

The government is trying to fix the problem with artificial rain-making, but efforts have met only short, scattered rains.

Surasri Kittimonton, director of the Royal Rainmaking Department, said Tuesday in a livestream that the rain-making operations are using a total of 23 planes.

Read: How Dry Is the Thai Drought This Year? 

The dried Mekhong in Pak Chom district.
The dried Mekhong in Pak Chom district.

On Tuesday, the division will carry out operations around Kanchanaburi, Sa Kaeo, and other provinces depending on weather conditions. Some operations, such as those in Chiang Mai, Phitsanulok, and Surat Thani, have already been thwarted by overcast clouds.

The division has carried out eight operations that resulted in little to medium rain in Lopburi, Kanchanaburi, Khon Kaen, Nakhon Ratchasima, Ubon Ratchathani, Surin, Sa Kaeo, and Surat Thani, the division said.

Experts say the combination of a shorter-than-expected rainy season and unregulated agricultural water use is to blame for the halted livelihoods.

Isaan is one of the hardest-hit regions. In Mueang Yang district, Nakhon Ratchasima, over 10,000 rai (1,600 hectares) of rice paddies have been scorched dry. Farmers say the drought is in its third month, and wasn’t halted by a short rainy spell early July.

Jaras Lorthaisong, 54, a local farmer, echoed what many other interviewed farmers have said: there hasn’t been such dryness in five decades.

“This is the longest drought in 50 years. It will probably get worse because there’s no sign of rain at all,” Jaras said.

Jaras Lorthaisong, right, points to dead rice paddies July 23, 2019 in Nakhon Ratchasima.
Jaras Lorthaisong, right, points to dead rice paddies July 23, 2019 in Nakhon Ratchasima.

Even in central Thailand, water levels in the country’s third-largest freshwater lake, Bueng Si Fai in Phichit, have receded to reveal dead dish and dried-up lotus fields. Statues of mythical water creatures at the once-popular tourist attraction now appear to be perching on dry land.

Bueng Si Fai lake on July 23, 2019 in Phichit.
Bueng Si Fai lake on July 23, 2019 in Phichit.

The Royal Rainmaking Division has announced that water levels in most reservoirs and dams in Thailand are at around 30 percent or lower. Lam Phra Phloeng Dam is at 14.69 percent capacity, Mun Bon Dam is at 24.28 percent, Lam Chae Dam is at 28.32 percent, and Lam Nong Rang Reservoir is at 20.13 percent.

The seven-day forecast by the Thai Meteorological Department foresees scattered rains in western Thailand starting Thursday, but little elsewhere.

Some locals are finding opportunity in the dryness, however. Locals in Pak Kad district in Bueng Kan are scavenging for shells left behind by the receding waters and cooking them for sale.

The Mekhong July 23, 2019 in Nong Khai.
The Mekhong July 23, 2019 in Nong Khai.
Farmers in Nakhon Ratchasima among the dead rice on July 23, 2019.
Locals gathering shells in Bueng Kan.
Locals gathering shells in Bueng Kan.


Low Mekhong levels July 23, 2019 in Loei.


Jaras Lorthaisong in dead rice paddies July 23, 2019 in Mueang Yang district, Nakhon Ratchasima.

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How Dry Is the Thai Drought This Year? 

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