Taipei, Taiwan – On May 8th each year, the Japanese engineer Hatta Yochi is revered as a god, responsible for overseeing the construction of the Wushantou Reservoir and Jianan Irrigation Canal that changed Taiwan’s agriculture a century ago by allowing the government to store and transport rainwater.

However, this year, due to the incense and flowers left on the Bada altar in Wushantou, his beloved reservoir has only half the capacity, while other similar reservoirs have dropped by 10% to 15%, because Taiwan is facing the worst in history. One of the droughts.

As an island, Taiwan relies on the annual typhoon season to bring enough rainwater to meet its household and industrial needs, but after a typhoon last year failed to strike for the first time in decades, it was forced to scramble due to limited rainfall and worsening.

Household water is rationed, and thousands of trucks transport water to supply the lucrative semiconductor industry, which angers farmers because most of the water is exclusively for their use.

Although Taiwan’s reservoirs were eventually refilled after heavy rains—to the point of flooding in the south—experts say the island’s recent troubles are just an experience of the consequences of climate change.

“What seems to be happening in Taiwan is that the severity of the drought is increasing. This is not only because their rainfall has decreased, but they have been very dry for a long time, so they must now find solutions, like those The same is true for countries that have traditionally had water supply problems,” said Nneka Chike-obi, director of sustainable finance at Fitch Ratings.

In early June, in front of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, a man stood in heavy rain caused by tropical storm Caiyun [File: Sam Yeh/AFP]

Typhoons can meet about half of Taiwan’s annual water demand, but due to climate change, it has begun to affect not only their path in the Asia-Pacific region, but also their intensity. Groundbreaking report This month is released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“Now, the IPCC report says that in the Pacific, the typhoon path will move northward. This means that although there are an average of three to four typhoons hitting Taiwan now, there may be fewer in the future. This is a warning to Taiwan. Climate change is not only next year. This year, but 10 or 20 years later,” said Peng Zhiming, founder of WeatherRisk, Taiwan’s first private company focused on weather. “Every year is the same cycle. When we encounter drought, we will talk and push the government to take action. But then, when the rain comes, everything will stop.”

Thirsty Agriculture, Industry

Resolving Taiwan’s water crisis is politically difficult for the government.

According to the Taiwan Water Resources Bureau, their reservoirs can only hold 6.2 billion tons of water, but the sediments in many of them account for 25% to 30% of the capacity.

Due to environmental damage, building new dams is politically unpopular, and reducing water use requires repairing Taiwan’s two largest industries-agriculture and chip manufacturing.

More than two-thirds of the island’s water is used in the agricultural sector, most of which is used to grow rice and tropical fruits in flooded fields twice a year.

According to the Taiwan Agriculture Committee, reducing water use will require farmers to adopt new irrigation methods such as precision irrigation, but this may be a challenge for an industry dominated by small farmers. The average age in 2015 was 62 years old.

In March, people took pictures on the exposed riverbed of the Tauqian River in Taiwan, which is the main source of water for the Hsinchu Science Park where major semiconductor companies are located. [File: Ann Wang/Reuters]

In the past, they had no incentive to change, because water was too cheap—a ton of water cost about 30 cents.

Wang Yifeng, deputy director of the Water Resources Bureau, told Al Jazeera that the government is considering paying farmers to convert a rice harvest into a crop with lower water intensity and plans to invest in smart irrigation gates. Will reduce water leakage, which is another key issue in household and agricultural use.

The government is also looking for new methods, such as technologies that can measure soil moisture to reduce water waste, and traditional methods similar to the wastewater recycling plants used on Taiwan’s outlying islands, and dig more deep-water wells.

“In Taiwan, the impact of climate change is twofold: one is that we will have many, many floods, and on the other hand, we will have more and more droughts. For our Water Resources Bureau, the future challenges are getting bigger and bigger. ,” Wang said.

In the recent drought, Taiwan’s semiconductor industry has become the focus of international media attention. The world is facing a shortage of chips, and production capacity has fallen due to lack of water.

Consuming about 20% of Taiwan’s water, the new desalination plant can meet some of the needs of the technology industry to convert seawater into fresh water, but the price is worrying. The price of about US$1 per ton is unaffordable for anyone other than TSMC and other companies. Taiwan’s largest chip manufacturer.

In March, Jiang Minglang, director of the northern region of the Hsinchu Water Conservancy Bureau of Taiwan, took photos of the low water level of Baoshan Second Reservoir during the drought on the island. [File: Ann Wang/Reuters]

Chike-obi said that if Taiwan re-directs water to the technology industry during the drought, it may not be able to meet the same understanding of domestic users and farmers who must restrict its use. When farmers were asked to restrict water use, similar situations caused turmoil in places like India.

“If Taiwan faces a drought again next year, the financial situation of the agricultural sector will be severely hit. The question is,’How will we make this work not only applicable to the semiconductor industry, but also to everyone? If there is a drought next year, the next year, the average person Would not be willing to continue to make sacrifices.”

However, seeing Taiwan’s most important industry struggle may be a wake-up call, and some people may need to fully understand and resolve the very real dangers that Taiwan faces from climate change.

“It’s interesting to see such a high-value technology industry being affected, and I think that’s why this story about Taiwan has aroused a lot of interest. People realize that climate change will not only happen to farmers in California, it will not rain or it will not happen in Australia. Fires will also affect the high-value products that the economy depends on,” she said.


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