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Taiwan drought

REUTERS / Annabelle Chih

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When the typhoons stop coming, lives and livelihoods must change

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.

However, for the first time in 56 years, no typhoon made landfall, marking the first half of 2021 as one of the worst drought periods in the island's history.

Key Numbers

Worst drought in

56 years

Reservoir capacity below


With water reservoirs below 5 per cent of their capacity, water rationing was ordered for more than one million households and businesses. The drought also affected the functioning of hydroelectric power plants, forcing outages that impacted both industries and consumers.

The water rationing was not without controversy, especially for Taiwan’s most water-intensive industries: rice farming and semiconductor manufacturing. Technological industries, like the semiconductor manufacturers, were instructed to slash water usage by up to 15 per cent. Meanwhile, some farmlands were completely cut off from water and irrigation of more than 74,000 ha of rice (24 per cent of total planted area), destroying the second yield.

Although both sectors endured rationing measures, the semiconductor industry was clearly prioritized over rice production. Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) 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 AI. The pressure to keep this high-GDP earning industry afloat while letting rice crops fail is an example of the hard choices that the impacts of climate change will continue to force.

The water rationing was not without controversy, especially for Taiwan’s most water-intensive industries: rice farming and semiconductor manufacturing.

Taiwan has relied on the consistency of typhoons to supply the water resources to meet their needs; and is not prepared for the consequences of a shifting normality. As climate change impacts the way freshwater resources are distributed on the planet, it has become more and more important to conserve and equitably allocate remaining resources. Where changing weather patterns are leading to a different level of access to natural resources, governments will face hard choices over what and whom to prioritize.

Wider picture

As much as half of the world's population could be living in areas facing water scarcity by as early as 2025. 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.

Root Causes

Pressures related to increasing consumptive demands for goods, such as food, energy and industrial materials.

A lack of perception, awareness or preparation in governance relating to risk management and response

Pursuit of economic or developmental interests with a lack of consideration for impacts on the environment

Gases released into the atmosphere by human activities contribute to increasing global warming and climate change


Intentional mass removal of trees, often for resource extraction or changing land use.

A prolonged shortage of water supply, often due to extended periods of insufficient rainfall.

Human activities altering the natural function or flow of freshwater bodies including rivers, lakes, wetlands and groundwater reservoirs.

Any product or substance in a concentration harmful for human or environmental health.

Increasing temperatures in the ocean or atmosphere, for example from climate change.

Infrastructure vulnerable to extreme events, often due to lack of investment, maintenance, inadequate planning or poor construction.


Water security can be impacted by disasters when sufficient availability or access to water for health and livelihoods is disrupted. Water sources can also get contaminated and make vectors for other risks.

Reduction of people’s ability to support themselves or their family, both temporarily or permanently, is an impact that is interconnected with many others, including health and food security.


Update cleaning process for reservoirs: Given high sedimentation rates in reservoirs in Taiwan and the ineffective cleaning techniques in place, there is room for adaptive planning in terms of water infrastructure on the island. Boosting reservoir capacity by removing sediment is a first step, followed closely by replacing leaking pipelines and outdated water infrastructure.

Improving water recycling: Investing in water recycling could help Taiwan face future climate impacts by reducing the dependency on rainfed water reservoirs. Starting with semiconductor industries, recycling industrial wastewater can work as a backup system during dry periods. Similarly, farmers and households need to change the way they value water in order to help reduce water waste.

Climate-smart agriculture: Using climate-smart techniques, such as replacing crops with less waterintensive varieties or using precision irrigation, can help reduce water consumption. In combination with improved crop management, this could represent an alternative income source for rice farmers in Taiwan.

Ecosystem restoration: Healthy forests and their root systems stabilize the soil. This mitigates erosion and sediment run-off, preventing Taiwan's reservoirs from siltation and leaving more room to fill with water during the rainy season.