BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand will experience its worst drought in more than a decade this year, the irrigation department said on Thursday, damaging crops in one of the world's biggest rice-exporting nations.
Thailand was currently battling drought in eight of 76 provinces, but 31 other provinces remained at risk, the Interior Ministry said, adding that it had allocated around 6.8 billion baht ($208.65 million) to alleviate drought, up from 430 million baht ($13.19 million) last year.
The funds would be used to install water pumps and provide mobile water tanks in affected areas, it said.
"This year's water levels are the worst in 15 years but we have managed our water supply so people can be confident that there will be no problems regarding water shortages," said Lertwiroj Kowattana, director-general of the Royal Irrigation Department.
Drought will cut major rice exporter Thailand's 2015 off-season crop by over 30 percent, according to the latest report from the Office of Agricultural Economics.
Thailand's off-season rice is grown between November and April after the main crop is harvested. The second crop needs irrigation as there is little rain during that period.
The government had announced that it would not provide water for second-crop rice farming. On Thursday, it said it had persuaded farmers to halve second-crop production in 2015.
Around 160,000 hectares, or around 1.3 percent of Thailand's total rice farm land, will be affected by drought, the Agriculture Ministry estimates.
Palm oil production has also been hit by ongoing drought prompting the government to import around 50,000 tonnes of crude palm oil due to a domestic shortage.
Thailand's military government has said it plans to invest $7.5 billion in urgent water management projects over the next two years.
The projects are part of a 10-year water management plan across the country after the military government scrapped a 350-billion baht water plan initiated by the previous administration.
(Reporting By Kaweewit Kaewjinda, Pracha Hariraksapitak and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Nick Macfie)