Thailand's annual water fight to carry on

Updated: 2016-04-12 07:42

By Associated Press In Bangkok(China Daily)

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Drought? What drought?

Thailand may be going through its driest period in 20 years. But the country's government wants visitors from around the globe to know that the biggest water fight in the world is still on.

So, get your water guns ready for the three-day nationwide street party that begins on Wednesday to mark the Thai New Year.

"We can still use water for the new year festival. It's not that dry," said a government spokesman, Sansern Kaewkamnerd. The government has instructed the Tourism Ministry to make sure foreign tourists don't misunderstand the severity of the drought and cancel holiday plans out of concerns the water supply will be cut off, he said.

After all, there are millions of dollars at stake.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand expects this year's holiday will generate more than $427 million for the tourism sector and attract half a million visitors in a span of five days.

Songkran, as the festival is known, has the spirit of a soggy Mardi Gras and is a major tourist attraction. Revelers line the streets, or prowl the roads in pickup trucks, armed with buckets, water guns or hoses and douse anyone in sight. Some areas are closed to traffic for wet and wild street parties with loud music, booze and dancing.

Rare controversy has preceded this year's water fight, with environmentalists and other critics calling for festivities to be curtailed.

"Instead of mindlessly wasting water, New Year revelers should be mindful of the crushing drought," The Nation newspaper said in an editorial last week calling for "a dry Songkran" to show solidarity with the country's farmers.

Seventeen of Thailand's 77 provinces have been declared drought zones with the lowest level of rainfall in more than two decades. Farmers have been ordered to curtail their water use and scale back planting. Tap-water rationing is in effect in certain provinces.

Unpopular ban

And yet Thailand's government is playing down the dry spell and says it is powerless to crimp such a popular national holiday.

"As the prime minister has said, Songkran brings happiness to the Thai people, and canceling it would be too difficult," Sansern said.

A ban would also be hugely unpopular both with Thais and tourists.

In past promotions, the tourism authority has played up the party scene, urging tourists "to get wet and wild" and "be part of the largest street water fight the world has to offer."

In 2011, TAT used the holiday to organize a Guinness World Record attempt for the world's largest water pistol fight, drawing more than 3,400 people to a 10-minute shootout in central Bangkok.

The prime minister, a former general who has dictatorial powers after toppling a civilian government in 2014, has bristled at the notion of canceling Songkran.

"I will not ban water throwing, that's impossible," Prayuth Chan-ocha, the prime minister, said in response to a proposal for government controls on holiday water use. He added dismissively, "Parents should teach their children to use less water and not splash it around for three days and three nights."

Heatwave shuts more than 250 Malaysian schools

More than 250 Malaysian schools were closed on Monday due to a heatwave brought on by the El Nino weather phenomenon which is severely affecting food production and causing chronic water shortages in many countries.

Authorities ordered schools in the states of Perlis and Pahang to shut after temperatures soared above 37 C over a 72-hour period, according to local reports.

The education ministry said the decision was made to protect the health of some 100,000 students, the official news agency Bernama reported.

The sweltering heat in Malaysia has reportedly slowed vegetable production, leading to price hikes. Paddy fields and rubber plantations have also been affected by the severe temperature rise.

January and February 2016 smashed global temperature records, the World Meteorological Organization said in March, attributing the highs to the "unprecedented" advance of climate change.

Many parts of Asia have been affected by the strong El Nino dry spell which has also hit agriculture in Thailand and the Philippines.

El Nino is triggered by a warming in sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. It can cause unusually heavy rains in some parts of the world and drought in others.

Thailand's annual water fight to carry on

 Thailand's annual water fight to carry on

A man walks on a dried up swamp in Ayutthaya, Thailand, on Saturday. Seventeen of Thailand's 77 provinces have been declared drought zones.Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters

(China Daily 04/12/2016 page11)