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Thailand Water Action: Upstream, Downstream

Thailand Water Action: Upstream, Downstream

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Published by: adbwaterforall on Oct 15, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals,communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.
Country Water ActionsThailand: Upstream, Downstream
August 2004
On the banks of the Ping River,near the city of Chiang Mai, innorthern Thailand, Buddhistscelebrate the annual Thanksgivingceremony. Their chant imploresrespect for all living things. Theypray for harmony between peopleand the natural environment.With its source in the northernhills of Chiang Mai Province, thePing is one of Thailand'simportant rivers. It is the largesttributary of the Chao Phraya, thecountry's main river basin.Traditionally, clean water was easy to find. People couldgrow crops all year round and people would provide waterfor all. Fish and vegetation were aplenty. Water gods andgoddesses were revered and water festivals werecelebrated. Water was the lifeblood of the land and itspeople.But whenever competition for scarce natural resourcesincreases, traditional harmonies among communities andwith nature prove fragile. The Ping River is no exception.Conflicts over water use between upstream anddownstream communities intensified to the point thatsolutions had to be found.In 1999, the Upper Ping River Basin Committee wasestablished as a forum for all stakeholders on the Ping tofind common ground on sharing and protecting this vitalriver system. The dialogue has not been easy.
People have felt the undeniable changes in the river overthe past five decades. Many farmers along the Ping nolonger have enough water for their crops in the dry season.In the rainy season, there would be floods—quick floods andflash floods, which were absent in years past. After thefloods, there would be a lot of deposition and siltation alongthe riverbanks.The Ping's course has narrowed from 200 meters to 50meters, especially as land encroachers filled it with soil anddebris to reclaim land from the river. Chemicals from cash-crop and fruit farms, and wastewater discharges from hotelsand factories pollute the river.Conflicts over water use between hilltribe people, farmers,urban residents and tourist resort operators have alsoescalated. 
The Ping River is fed by hundredsof tributaries, which originate inthe surrounding hills, where waterbegins its long journey to thelowlands, and eventually to thecapital city of Bangkok and theGulf of Thailand. One of thosetributaries is the Mae Thachang,which originates in the hills of DoiSuthep.This high area is home to theHmong, a tribal people who havelived there for generations. Inrecent times, the Hmong havebegun farming the highlandsintensively. Doi Suthep is an ecologically delicate region butthe government allows its habitation because the Hmongare indigenous to the area.While tourism is a growing source of income for them, cropsare still important and the gardens provide food for thevillage. Hmong villagers have a committee to oversee thewater.At the source of the Mae Thachang River, water is plentiful.The Hmong have access to the river at its source and theyare flourishing.But problems arise when the volume of water reaching thelowlands starts to decline. With livelihoods at stake, waterconflicts are a sensitive and often emotional matter.Farmers downstream became angry that too much waterwas being diverted to the Hmong lychee orchards. Thelowland farmers smashed the Hmong pipes, the Hmongretaliated, and the situation got violent. Finally, a meetingwas called between the groups of people.The Hang Dong Water Sub-committee is part of the UpperPing River Basin pilot initiative. The committee gives aforum for people to talk without resorting to violence.Through negotiations and compromise, the Hang Dongfarmers and the Hmong hill tribe agreed on a method toshare the water from the Mae Thachang. The compromiseincluded the Hmong farmers reducing the diameters of theirwater pipers to reduce their water consumption, andinstituting a schedule for water use. 

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