Thailand: Drought threatens Thai Map Ta Phut industrial estate

Reuters 4 May 12;

BANGKOK, May 4 (Reuters) - Thailand's biggest industrial complex, Map Ta Phut, escaped the flooding that devastated other estates last year but its factories could soon suffer the opposite problem, a shortage of water, as the eastern region is threatened with drought.

A local reservoir is only half-full, worrying the 147 businesses on Map Ta Phut, although officials say there is no immediate problem with water supply and they are looking at ways to address any shortage.

The director of the estate, Pratheep Aeng-Chuan, said estate officials would meet relevant agencies including the Royal Irrigation Department and the provincial Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation on May 14 to discuss the situation.

"Currently we are coordinating with the Meteorological Department to provide information regarding water levels and climate forecasts for the coming three to four months, which may have a significant impact on water collection within the reservoir," Pratheep told Reuters.

He said the authorities would look at various measures to tackle any problems that arose, including alternative water sources and creating artificial rain over the reservoir.

The region suffered its worst drought in 30 years in 2005, when water levels in the reservoir receded to less than 20 percent.

However, Pratheep insisted the situation was nowhere near as serious yet and that businesses were operating as normal.

"There hasn't been any impact on the businesses operating here yet ... There is a sufficient amount of water production in the area for usage. No orders for water supplies from other sources have been placed yet," he said.

The reservoir contained 139.47 million cubic metres of water, whereas 160 million was generally considered necessary to ensure normal supply, East Water Resources Development and Management, which oversees supplies to the industrial sector in the region, said in a note on Friday.

Other areas of Thailand are suffering from a heat wave. The maximum daily temperature in Bangkok in April averaged 40.1 Celsius (104.2 Fahrenheit), the highest in 30 years.

Manufacturing in Thailand has still not recovered from last year's flooding. Seven big industrial estates had to close in October and the Industry Ministry says a quarter of the factories have still not reopened.

Although Map Ta Phut was spared the flooding, it has seen other disruption in recent years. Construction work on dozens of new plants was suspended for almost a year in 2009/2010 because of health and environmental complaints pursued through the courts by activists. (Reporting by Sinsiri Tiwutanond; Editing by Alan Raybould)

Bangkok Heat Stokes Debate Over mega-City Planning
Amy Sawitta Lefevre PlanetArk 4 May 12;

Bangkok Heat Stokes Debate Over mega-City Planning Photo: Sukree Sukplang
Monkeys enjoy a cold bath in a pond during a hot day in a rural neighbourhood in Ayutthaya province, 80 km (50 miles) north of Bangkok May 3, 2012. Bangkok is seeing the hottest average temperatures in the last 30 years.
Photo: Sukree Sukplang

Five months after the worst floods in half a century, the Thai capital is facing a near record heat wave with temperatures at three-decade highs, stoking debate over the often chaotic urban planning in one of Asia's hottest and largest cities.

The daily average high in Bangkok in April was 40.1 Celsius (104.2 Fahrenheit), the Meteorological Department says, prompting warnings from authorities for residents to be alert for heat-related ailments.

Critics say the heat has been exacerbated by poor urban planning in the fast-growing city of 12 million people - from a thinning of trees by city workers, often to accommodate electrical power lines, to heat-trapping building designs and a relatively small number of parks.

"It is a factor," Prawit Jampanya, director of the Central Weather Forecast division at the Meteorological Department, said, referring to the lack of green spaces in trapping Bangkok's mercury-pumping heat.

"Having trees does help to relieve poor air quality and urban heat traps," he said.

Though a tropical city, Bangkok has fewer trees and green spaces in proportion to its population than other Asian cities. An Asian Green City Index of 22 cities released last year by the Economist Intelligence Unit put Bangkok's green spaces at 3 square meters per person in the metropolitan area.

That is well below the index average of 39 square meters and contrasts with Singapore, a fellow Southeast Asian tropical city 1,430 km (890 miles) to the south, which has 66 square meters of green space per person.

Urban planning in Bangkok can seem arbitrary - from chronic congestion on main roads to obstructed or non-existent sidewalks, and poorly enforced zoning laws that allow homes and apartment buildings next to office towers and shopping malls.

Authorities hope to bring some order to the city with a new urban plan that takes effect from May next year.

Chalermwat Tantasavasdi, associate dean at the Faculty of Architecture and Planning at Thammasat University, says Bangkok's heat is made worse by outdated building designs that lack the proper insulation needed to keep buildings cool, leading to a rise in energy consumption.

The heat coincides with drought in 50 out of Thailand's 77 provinces, plus an increase in man-made and natural fires, just months after the worst floods in more than 50 years.

Businesses report surging sales of air conditioners, sun-screen and other cooling products.

Mistine Cosmetics Thailand, for example, saw sales of sunscreen products, lotions and creams jump 14 percent in April compared with the same period last year, says the company's marketing planner, Cholacha Subeuong.

Humans aren't the only ones suffering.

"Because of the heat, we have had to put in place cooling measures for the animals," says Waraporn Gunton at Bangkok's Dusit Zoo.

Measures have included mixing ice with animal food and watering some animals down with sprinklers.

(Editing by Jason Szep and Robert Birsel)