A commercial plane flies over a beach on Koh Samui island in Thailand's Surat Thani province, January 3, 2019. EFE/ Sitthipong Chareonjai/FILE

Drought, return of tourism leave Thai tourism jewel dry

By Noel Caballero

Bangkok, Jul 8 (EFE).- The island of Samui, one of the jewels of tourism in Thailand, faces a shortage of water due to the lack of rainfall, exacerbated by the return of tourism from masses after the Covid-19 pandemic.

With soft white sand beaches and crystal clear waters, Samui, located in the Gulf of Thailand, is one of the country’s main tourist hubs and attracted more than 2.3 million visitors in 2019 -before the global health crisis.

The small island of 230sqkm has a huge number of hotels, wellness centers or large golf courses focused on tourism, but suffers from adequate infrastructure to deal with the enormous consumption of water.

The low rainfall recorded since the beginning of the year and the increase in demand, due to the return of tourists, has forced frequent supply cuts that have pushed businesses to go to the private sector for supplies.

“I want to implore people to save water and use it sparingly,” Samui Deputy Mayor Sutham Samthong said Tuesday in a video posted on social media asking for help to prevent the area from being declared a “disaster zone.”

According to official meteorological forecasts for the coming years, the El Nino phenomenon is expected to result in “unusually low average rainfall,” which would last in the worst case until 2028, and will impact more severely in the south of the country, where Samui is located.

Despite this, hotel reservations and the arrival of visitors have not suffered, partly because businessmen are the ones who bear the extra cost derived from this problem.

“The scarcity of water affects business owners more than tourists, because it is the businessmen who face the supply costs” through tanker trucks, for example, the president of the Tourism Association told EFE from Samui, Ratchaporn Poonsawat.

The representative said this situation affects many businesses that are still recovering from the losses derived from the closure due to the pandemic and added that he is working together with the authorities to install, within six months, desalination machines as an “alternative source” of fresh water supply.

” However, 6 months is already very long for the tourism business. We cannot wait that long–there must be an urgent solution for the tourism of Samui Island, before businesses will be affected more than this, especially [during] the peak season of the island right now in July and August,” Ratchaporn said.

Samui, with a registered population of about 70,000 people, currently needs about 30,000 cubic meters of water per day, which it covers through the Phum Duang River – on the mainland and linked to the island through underwater pipes – with 24,000 cubic meters, and two small reserves, according to official data.

However, it is not enough and the local population complains of “frequent” water cuts that sometimes last for a week or more.

“It is a problem we have been facing for a long time due to the warmer climate and the lack of rain (…) when it happens we buy drinking water in the private sector, which increases our expenses,” Pitak, an engineer who lives on the island.

“As a person who works in the hotel sector, it is a problem that worries me a lot (…) If the water shortage worsens, it could affect the economy of Samui,” said EFE Benjaporn, who goes to water dispensers “to most reasonable prices” when restrictions apply. EFE