Taiwan is one of the wettest places in the world with an annual rainfall of 2,600 mm, often brought to the island by seasonal typhoons. During the 2020-2021 typhoon season, for the first time in 56 years, no typhoon made landfall, leading to one of the worst droughts in the island’s history.
Taiwan’s two most water-intensive industries, rice farming and semiconductor manufacturing, were severely affected. Technological industries were instructed to slash water usage by up to 15 per cent, and some farmlands were completely cut off from water and irrigation leading to crop loss.
The pressure to keep the high-GDP earning semiconductor industry afloat while letting rice crops fail was not without controversy. Although both sectors endured rationing measures, the semiconductor industry was clearly prioritized over rice production. Taiwan’s semiconductor industry produces nearly 25 per cent of the world’s semiconductors and 92 per cent of the most advanced chips used in products like iPhones and automotive artificial intelligence.
Droughts usually only occur a few of months per year in Taiwan and can easily be forgotten due to rains between May and September. However, from June 2020 to May 2021, the island only received a third of the annual precipitation average.
Soil washed away from deforested land fills up Taiwan’s reservoirs; therefore, ecosystem restoration in the watershed is crucial to prevent such erosion. Furthermore, since the rice industry is incredibly water intensive, implementing innovative solutions, such as precision irrigation or smart-rice varieties that are tolerant to both flood and drought extremes, could curb some of Taiwan’s water usage.
Water management in a changing climate is incredibly important to ensure the life, health and prosperity of people on our planet. However, because the climate is shifting as in the case of typhoon pathways in Taiwan, we also need to shift water management strategies in order to cope with this. Valuing water, reducing waste and consuming only what is necessary, even in times of abundance, is necessary to make sure there is enough to go around.