Research suggests that global climate change is already starting to have an impact in the northeastern Isan region. In particular, the ‘Plain of Crying Nomads’ (that will be Thung Kula Ronghai, which covers Roi Et, Maha Sarakam, Surin, Sisaket and Yasothon) has been witnessing 45% reductions in rice yield, as well as additional droughts and floods. Many of the farmers involved have only low levels of education, of course and, having never heard of climate change, are seeking explanations from the world of the supernatural.
It is all too tempting to attribute any change in weather conditions to climate change without considering what other factors might be contributing – in the case of Isan, the deforestation of the region has intensified the cycle of drought and flooding, since the roots of the trees are no longer available to hold the water in the soil and the trees cannot hold up the flooding. However, the research (which I have not seen apart from this newspaper report) seems to have taken these effects into account and identified a quantitative change in conditions.
The intensification of weather conditions seems to be overwhelming the ability of the local people to cope, using the time-honoured customs that form the basis of folk wisdom. Even under previous conditions, many farmers have been crippled by systemic indebtedness owing to the seasonal nature of their economic activities and the inequities of the capitalist system in which they live. Rural poverty and suicide is a common enough phenomenon and will become worse, presumably, especially if the halt in the worsening conditions through policies of redistribution brought about by the 2001-6 governments are not properly sustained. It is possible that, if suitable steps are not taken now, that much of the Isan region will become uninhabitable within 30-50 years, depending on when the Himalayan glaciers finish melting and the Mekong dries up forever. Fifty million people rely upon the river in one way or another: it will be a human disaster of incredible proportions if the glaciers are permitted to disappear in the way that seems almost inevitable.