03/13/2010, 00.00
ASIA

El Niño and heavy industry leave South East Asia waterless

Over 65 million people in the Mekong region are suffering the worst drought in 30 years. Bangkok: the Chinese dams the source of the problem. At risk crops of rice and sugar, production of palm oil in Indonesia and Malaysia. Indigenous Filipinos forced to eating poisonous plants.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) - In Southeast Asia, millions of people are likely to remain without water for the drought caused by the arrival of Nino. In the Mekong River region, where more than 65 million people live, the water level is at its lowest level in over 30 years and on the border between Thailand and Laos is impossible to navigate and irrigate the fields. In Indonesia and Malaysia the entire palm oil industry is in danger and in the province of Sabah (Malaysia) production has already dropped by a fifth compared to January. The situation even more serious in the Philippines, where in the most affected regions the population is forced to cook poisonous plants to survive.

In Thailand, the biggest exporter of rice in the world, the drought has affected 36 provinces out of 76. These are all located near the Mekong River; most of the crops of rice and sugar are concentrated. The drought has reduced water reserves by 15% and 4 million people have already been forced to ration water.

Prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has onfirmed: "Water shortage is a problem that the government is facing, along with other international organizations, with targeted interventions, especially for farmers in the Mekong region, where the water level is falling year by year".   The Mekong River rises in Tibet and the Thai premier believes the low river level is due not only to drought in recent months, but especially to the dams built by the Chinese government in the vicinity of the source. "I believe that China plays a very important role in the development of the region – he said in a recent meeting with Vejjajiva Chengyaew Hoo, Deputy Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs - and they are not very happy to see the population of the 5 countries located at the mouth of Mekong in serious difficulties because of the scarcity of water".

Indonesia and Malaysia, are the main producers of palm oil in the world and the sector employs most of the rural population. "If the weather remains dry until the end of the month - said Thomas Mielke, director of the Malaysian Oil World Ltd - the oil production will decrease from 200 thousand to 400 thousand tons”. According to Mielke the effects of Nino have been worsened by the unchecked expansion of crops linked to the production of oil. In 2009, only Malaysia exported 17.8 million tonnes of oil products.  

Despite the fact that the spreading phenomenon now affects the whole of South-East Asia, the most serious situation is in the Philippines, where the drought has already caused more than 25 million euros in damages and the lack of water in the hydroelectric power plants has thrown the country into a severe energy and food crisis. In the province of Cotabato drought has affected fields and cattle and for the past two months the indigenous population of Lumad has been eating poisonous weeds to survive. "This is the kind of food that our ancestors ate in times of trouble - says Dulfo Kabengi, Protestant pastor and member of the Lumad community - the government does not help us and we are forced to eat these herbs (Kayos) to live." The pastor said that in his community already dozens of people have died from poisoning. To prevent the humanitarian catastrophe in rural areas, the government announced today the use of funds for natural disasters, usually used to prevent flood damage.    

With the collaboration of Santosh Digal
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