BANGKOK — Thailand’s prime minister on Wednesday told farmers to stop using water in agriculture, saving it for public consumption, as the capital remained spared from the worst drought in decades.
Military personnel and government officials were sent to stop farmers from pumping water released from dams into their farmland. Previously, authorities asked farmers in the central plains to hold off on planting rice, but many had already begun growing their crops.
Thailand has seen little rain since the rainy season officially started in the last week of May, leaving water levels in dams critically low. More rainfall is expected in August.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said that farmers should wait for the rain.
‘‘We have to help people to survive first. First we tried to sustain both livelihood and agriculture. When we couldn’t help the agriculture, we have to admit it, because people are more important,’’ Prayuth told reporters. ‘‘I feel sorry for the farmers, but there’s really nothing we can do.’’
The Office of Agricultural Economics estimated that farmers in Thailand’s central plains alone could lose $1.8 billion.
As the shortage worsens, Bangkok’s urban dwellers have grown increasingly concerned.
The Metropolitan Waterworks Authority, overseeing water supply in Bangkok and nearby provinces, has been slowing tap water production since May. Earlier it warned that the water supply for daily consumption in the capital would last only 30 days.
But similar to the recovery from the major flood in 2011, the capital is likely to receive most of the government’s help while more rural areas suffer.
The city’s waterworks chief, Governor Thanasak Watanathana, warned that tap water might be saltier. The rivers are too low to push away water from the Gulf of Thailand, so seawater will be part of the tap water mixture, he said.