Taps turned off as Taiwan battles worst drought in decade

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan is facing its worst drought in over a decade after the lowest rainfall in nearly 70 years, forcing some major cities to turn off the taps as authorities introduce emergency rationing, officials said Friday.

Water supplies to households and businesses in northern Taoyuan city and most of New Taipei City - the island's largest municipality - will be cut off for two days a week from the beginning of April, the government said.

"The water supply situation is urgent as Taiwan had the lowest rainfall last autumn and winter since 1947," the economics affairs ministry said in a statement, adding the dry spell is forecast to continue.

"We may have delayed or no monsoon rains at all... We urge the public to cooperate during this difficult time." Parts of the vast Shihmen Dam in Taoyuan have dried up, leaving boats washed up in what is now a muddy crater.

The dam, which supplies parts of northern Taiwan, has only 47 days of water left without fresh rain, according to the authorities.

Rationing is being imposed "in preparation for the worst" Lai Chien-hsin, a spokesman for the water resources agency, told AFP.

"We will decide on when to remove the rationing depending on the situation." The government last imposed water rationing and anti-drought measures in 2001 in parts of Taiwan, including Taipei.

At that time water supplies to car washes, saunas and swimming pools were suspended in the capital while government agencies, schools and hotels were ordered to slash their water consumption by 20 percent.

Industrial water supplies will also be reduced in nine areas across the island from Monday for an indefinite period, authorities said.