Drought exposes submerged Thai temple

Buddhists are visiting a temple in central Thailand exposed by a record drought that has caused the retreat of a reservoir which submerged the buildings 20 years ago. 

The dry spell imperils crop production and rural demand in Asean’s second-largest economy, where approximately 11 million people work in agriculture. 

As the reservoir shrank to less than 3 per cent of its capacity, the remains of Wat Nong Bua Yai (pictured) have reappeared. 

Cracked earth littered with dead fish surrounds a headless four-metre Buddha statue, which has now been adorned with flowers.

“The temple is normally covered by water. In the rainy season you don’t see anything,” said Somchai Ornchawiang, a 67-year-old retired teacher.

He expressed worries about the damage the drought was causing to farmland. 

“The main impact if drought intensifies or lasts longer is on the growth outlook, which is already weakening,” said Euben Paracuelles, an economist at Nomura Holdings. “That would then require more coordinated easing from both fiscal and monetary policy.”

The 960-million cubic metre capacity dam normally irrigates around 526,000 hectares of farmland in four provinces but it can currently only supply 1,214 hectares in the province of Lopburi.

Thailand’s meteorological department said the kingdom was facing its worst drought in a decade. 

Nearly half of major reservoirs are operating at less than 30-per-cent capacity, the Irrigation Department said. 

Next to the temple compound are the remains of 700 village homes. 

The ruins also reappeared after a drought in 2015.

The government has resorted to cloud-seeding to trigger rain and is sending water trucks to rural communities.

The University of Thai Chambers of Commerce has estimated that the drought has affected 1,334 square kilometres of farmland, most of which grows rice, with initial damage of Bt10 billion (US$330 million). 

The university, which consulted agricultural government agencies and firms, said yields and incomes in the north and northeast were most harshly affected. 

Maize, sugar cane and tapioca production were also reduced, the study said.

Thailand is the globe’s largest grower of rubber and one of the largest exporters of sugar and rice.

Bangkok has held talks with China about water management on the River Mekong. Beijing plans to release more water from its dams to ease shortages downstream, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said last week.


Wat Nong Bua Yai. Picture credit: YouTube