INTENSE heat attributed to the El Nino weather phenomenon is prompting fears of prolonged water crises and dengue outbreaks in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore.
In Thailand, the government scrambled to build 4,300 more wells to cope with the massive demand for the water, reported Reuters. Thai farmers are contending with a drought and a water shortage that has lasted for months, and is only expected to get worse before the rainy season begins in May.
Secretary of the National Water Board Suphot Tovichakchaikul said, “We estimate that the end of this year’s dry season is May 30. The water we have now has to last for the next four months.”
Water crises are not new or surprising to the country. Just last November, authorities sounded the alarm about critical water levels at dams. At the time, two key dams which supply water to Bangkok faced water shortages. Kwai Noi Dam in Phitsanulok was at just 44 percent water capacity and Pasak Dam in Lopburi was at 52 percent capacity.
The hot weather is also exacerbating the current dengue outbreak in Thailand. According to one report, dengue cases has quadrupled since a week ago. The country also recently saw the passing of popular TV star Thrisadee “Por” Sahawong due to complications related to dengue fever.
In Malaysia, the dry season has raised the specter of water cuts and water rationing as implemented in 2014. In that year, hundreds of thousands of households – mostly in Kuala Lumpur and the state of Selangor – experienced water cuts due to depleted reservoirs.
This time around, the government’s meteorological department expects to see 20 to 60 percent less rain starting this month due to the El Nino phenomenon. The department’s director-general, Che Gayah Ismail, categorises the current El Nino level as “strong” and said its impact will continue to be felt until April.
“The last time the country faced an El Nino phenomenon of this high intensity was in 1997 and 1998, where temperatures reached 40.1°C,” she said.
The Malaysian state of Selangor, which was hit by water cuts in 2014, said state dams had stored enough water to outlast the expected drought. Last week, official data showed that state dams are at a record high of 70 percent and above water capacity.
Even so, just like in Thailand, Malaysia has seen a disturbing spike in dengue cases. The first week of 2016 saw a one-third increase in cases compared to the previous week. Furthermore, the Malaysian Health Ministry warned that the hot and dry El Nino weather could cause a 50 percent increase in cases.
Singapore has not been spared either the heat or the mosquitoes. Based on the first two weeks of 2016, Singapore is experiencing the hottest January ever recorded, with a mean temperature of 28.1 degrees Celsius. More than 600 dengue cases were recorded there last week – the highest weekly figure since 2014.