Taiwan’s Drought Pits Chip Makers Against Farmers

HSINCHU, Taiwan — Chuang Cheng-deng’s modest rice farm is a stone’s throw from the nerve center of Taiwan’s computer chip industry, whose products power a huge share of the world’s iPhones and other gadgets.

This year, Mr. Chuang is paying the price for his high-tech neighbors’ economic importance. Gripped by drought and scrambling to save water for homes and factories, Taiwan has shut off irrigation across tens of thousands of acres of farmland.

The authorities are compensating growers for the lost income. But Mr. Chuang, 55, worries that the thwarted harvest will drive customers to seek out other suppliers, which could mean years of depressed earnings.

“The government is using money to seal farmers’ mouths shut,” he said, surveying his parched brown fields.

already strained by surging demand for electronics, the added uncertainty about Taiwan’s water supply is not likely to ease concerns about the tech world’s reliance on the island and on one chip maker in particular: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.

Intel and other big names. The company said last week that it would invest $100 billion over the next three years to increase capacity, which will likely further strengthen its commanding presence in the market.

TSMC says the drought has not affected its production so far. But with Taiwan’s rainfall becoming no more predictable even as its tech industry grows, the island is having to go to greater and greater lengths to keep the water flowing.

In recent months, the government has flown planes and burned chemicals to seed the clouds above reservoirs. It has built a seawater desalination plant in Hsinchu, home to TSMC’s headquarters, and a pipeline connecting the city with the rainier north. It has ordered industries to cut use. In some places it has reduced water pressure and begun shutting off supplies for two days each week. Some companies, including TSMC, have hauled in truckloads of water from other areas.

But the most sweeping measure has been the halt on irrigation, which affects 183,000 acres of farmland, around a fifth of Taiwan’s irrigated land.

project to increase irrigation efficiency.

That Taiwan, one of the developed world’s rainiest places, should lack for water is a paradox verging on tragedy.

2015, and before that in 2004.

“If in another two or three years, the same conditions reappear, then we can say, ‘Ah, Taiwan has definitely entered an era of major water shortages,’” said You Jiing-yun, a civil engineering professor at National Taiwan University. “Right now, it’s wait and see.”

according to the company, or more than 10 percent of the supply from two local reservoirs, Baoshan and Baoshan Second Reservoir. TSMC recycled more than 86 percent of the water from its manufacturing processes that year, it said, and conserved 3.6 million tons more than it did the year before by increasing recycling and adopting other new measures. But that amount is still small next to the 63 million tons it consumed in 2019 across its Taiwan facilities.

government figures show. Most Western Europeans use less than that, though Americans use more, according to World Bank data.

Mr. Wang of the Water Resources Agency said: “Adjusting water prices has a big effect on society’s more vulnerable groups, so when making adjustments, we are extremely cautious.” Taiwan’s premier said last month that the government would look into imposing extra fees on 1,800 water-intensive factories.

Lee Hong-yuan, a hydraulic engineering professor who previously served as Taiwan’s interior minister, also blames a bureaucratic morass that makes it hard to build new wastewater recycling plants and to modernize the pipeline network.

“Other small countries are all extremely flexible,” Mr. Lee said, but “we have a big country’s operating logic.” He believes this is because Taiwan’s government was set up decades ago, after the Chinese civil war, with the goal of ruling the whole of China. It has since shed that ambition, but not the bureaucracy.

Taiwan’s southwest is both an agricultural heartland and a rising center of industry. TSMC’s most advanced chip facilities are in the southern city of Tainan.

The nearby Tsengwen Reservoir has shrunk to a marshy stream in some parts. Along a scenic strip known as Lovers’ Park, the floor of the reservoir has become a vast moonscape. The water volume is around 11.6 percent of capacity, according to government data.

In farming towns near Tainan, many growers said they were content to be living on the government’s dime, at least for now. They clear the weeds from their fallowed fields. They drink tea with friends and go on long bike rides.

But they are also reckoning with their futures. The Taiwanese public appears to have decided that rice farming is less important, both for the island and the world, than semiconductors. The heavens — or larger economic forces, at least — seem to be telling the farmers it is time to find other work.

“Fertilizer is getting more expensive. Pesticide is getting more expensive,” said Hsieh Tsai-shan, 74, a rice grower. “Being a farmer is truly the worst.”

Serene farmland surrounds the village of Jingliao, which became a popular tourist spot after appearing in a documentary about farmers’ changing lives.

There is only one cow left in town. It spends its days pulling visitors, not plowing fields.

“Around here, 70 counts as young,” said Yang Kuei-chuan, 69, a rice farmer.

Both of Mr. Yang’s sons work for industrial companies.

“If Taiwan didn’t have any industry and relied on agriculture, we all might have starved to death by now,” Mr. Yang said.

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Syrian Refugees in Rebel Controlled Idlib Are Stuck in Limbo

IDLIB, Syria — Among the millions of Syrians who fled as the government bombed their towns, destroyed their homes and killed their loved ones are 150 families squatting in a soccer stadium in the northwestern city of Idlib, sheltering in rickety tents under the stands or in the rocky courtyard.

Work is scarce and terror grips them whenever jets buzz overhead: New airstrikes could come at any time. But the fear of government retribution keeps them from returning home. More than 1,300 similar camps dot Syria’s last bastions under rebel control, eating up farmland, stretching along irrigation canals and filling lots next to apartment buildings where refugee families squat in damaged units with no windows.

“People will stay in these places with all the catastrophes before they go live under the regime of Bashar al-Assad,” said Okba al-Rahoum, the manager of the camp in the soccer stadium.

On a rare visit to Idlib Province, examples abounded of shocked and impoverished people trapped in a murky and often violent limbo. Stuck between a wall to prevent them from fleeing across the nearby border with Turkey and a hostile government that could attack at any moment, they struggle to secure basic needs in a territory controlled by a militant group formerly linked to Al Qaeda.

bused them here after conquering their towns. They drove in with trucks piled high with blankets, mattresses and children. Some arrived on foot, with few possession besides the clothes they wore.

Last year, an offensive by the Syrian government, backed by its Russia and Iran, pushed nearly a million more people into the area.

About 2.7 million of the 4.2 million people in the northwest, one of the last of two strips of territory held by a rebel movement that once controlled much of Syria, have fled from other parts of the country. That influx has transformed a pastoral strip of farming villages into a dense conglomeration of makeshift settlements with strained infrastructure and displaced families crammed into every available space.

SHINE, an education organization, urged a group of women at an event in Idlib to refuse polygamous marriages, which are permitted under Islamic law.

The next day, gunmen closed SHINE’s office and threatened to jail its manager, Ms. Kisar said.

a cease-fire between Russia and Turkey has stopped outright combat in Idlib, but on one day last month there were three attacks. A shell hit a refugee camp; an airstrike ignited a fuel depot on the Turkish border; and three artillery shells struck a village hospital in Al Atarib, killing seven patients, including an orphan boy who had gone for a vaccination, according to the Syrian American Medical Society, which supports the facility.

While the area’s displaced struggle to survive, others try to provide simple pleasures.

In the city of Idlib, the Disneyland restaurant entices visitors to dine on salads and grilled meat, and to forget their woes with video games, bumper cars, air hockey and stuffed animal claw machines.

The basement storeroom doubles as a shelter when the government shells nearby, and the terrace is enclosed with plastic sheeting instead of glass so it doesn’t shatter on diners if something explodes nearby.

The manager, Ahmed Abu Kheir, lost his job at a tourist restaurant that shut down when the war began, he said, so he opened a smaller place that was later destroyed by government shelling.

He opened another restaurant, but left it behind when the government seized the area last year and he fled to Idlib.

Like all of Idlib’s displaced, he longed to take his family home, but was glad to work in a place that spread a little joy in the meantime.

“We are convinced that normal life has to continue,” he said. “We want to live.”

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In a Syrian Rebel Bastion, Millions Are Trapped in Murky, Violent Limbo

IDLIB, Syria — Among the millions of Syrians who fled as the government bombed their towns, destroyed their homes and killed their loved ones are 150 families squatting in a soccer stadium in the northwestern city of Idlib, sheltering in rickety tents under the stands or in the rocky courtyard.

Work is scarce and terror grips them whenever jets buzz overhead: New airstrikes could come at any time. But the fear of government retribution keeps them from returning home. More than 1,300 similar camps dot Syria’s last bastions under rebel control, eating up farmland, stretching along irrigation canals and filling lots next to apartment buildings where refugee families squat in damaged units with no windows.

“People will stay in these places with all the catastrophes before they go live under the regime of Bashar al-Assad,” said Okba al-Rahoum, the manager of the camp in the soccer stadium.

On a rare visit to Idlib Province, examples abounded of shocked and impoverished people trapped in a murky and often violent limbo. Stuck between a wall to prevent them from fleeing across the nearby border with Turkey and a hostile government that could attack at any moment, they struggle to secure basic needs in a territory controlled by a militant group formerly linked to Al Qaeda.

bused them here after conquering their towns. They drove in with trucks piled high with blankets, mattresses and children. Some arrived on foot, with few possession besides the clothes they wore.

Last year, an offensive by the Syrian government, backed by its Russia and Iran, pushed nearly a million more people into the area.

About 2.7 million of the 4.2 million people in the northwest, one of the last of two strips of territory held by a rebel movement that once controlled much of Syria, have fled from other parts of the country. That influx has transformed a pastoral strip of farming villages into a dense conglomeration of makeshift settlements with strained infrastructure and displaced families crammed into every available space.

SHINE, an education organization, urged a group of women at an event in Idlib to refuse polygamous marriages, which are permitted under Islamic law.

The next day, gunmen closed SHINE’s office and threatened to jail its manager, Ms. Kisar said.

a cease-fire between Russia and Turkey has stopped outright combat in Idlib, but on one day last month there were three attacks. A shell hit a refugee camp; an airstrike ignited a fuel depot on the Turkish border; and three artillery shells struck a village hospital in Al Atarib, killing seven patients, including an orphan boy who had gone for a vaccination, according to the Syrian American Medical Society, which supports the facility.

While the area’s displaced struggle to survive, others try to provide simple pleasures.

In the city of Idlib, the Disneyland restaurant entices visitors to dine on salads and grilled meat, and to forget their woes with video games, bumper cars, air hockey and stuffed animal claw machines.

The basement storeroom doubles as a shelter when the government shells nearby, and the terrace is enclosed with plastic sheeting instead of glass so it doesn’t shatter on diners if something explodes nearby.

The manager, Ahmed Abu Kheir, lost his job at a tourist restaurant that shut down when the war began, he said, so he opened a smaller place that was later destroyed by government shelling.

He opened another restaurant, but left it behind when the government seized the area last year and he fled to Idlib.

Like all of Idlib’s displaced, he longed to take his family home, but was glad to work in a place that spread a little joy in the meantime.

“We are convinced that normal life has to continue,” he said. “We want to live.”

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