Water rationing in Taiwan's second largest city of Kaohsiung as drought deepens

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's government said Friday it will expand water rationing to its second largest city next month to battle a worsening drought following record-low rain in nearly 70 years.

The state water company will cut supplies to households and businesses in southern Kaohsiung from May 4 for two days a week - the first time such a measure has been imposed in the city, the economic affairs ministry said.

Water rationing was already launched in some areas of northern Taiwan earlier this month, including Taoyuan and parts of New Taipei city, after the lowest rainfall across the island last autumn and winter since 1947.

"The water supply situation in Kaohsiung is urgent. The Gaoping River which is its main source of water is running low as there has been little rain for over nine months in the city," said Lai Chien-hsin, a spokesman for the water resources agency.

Kaohsiung city authorities have shut down 12 public swimming pools since late March and reduced water supplies to industrial and some commercial users to fight drought.

Local businesses are now bracing themselves for the new round of rationing.

"We will close off the swimming pool and sauna when water rationing starts next month in addition to taking other measures to conserve water," said Emily Huang, a publicist for the Lees Hotel in Kaohsiung.

"So far we don't have any cancellations but I I am concerned that the drought will affect business."

In northern Taiwan, homes, schools and businesses have been relying on water stored in large tanks on water rationing days and are adopting water-saving measures, including recycling water for gardening.

Despite recent light rains, the government has warned that the dry spell is forecast to "continue for most of May".

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.