Water Champions initiate or implement water reforms in their chosen field, and are directlyinvolved in improving the water situation in their respective countries.
Water ChampionSukontha Aekaraj Bang Pakong River Basin: Resolving Conflicts ThroughDialogue
Knowledge Management Officer
ABOUT THE CHAMPION
Ms. Sukontha Aekaraj is the Director of the Foreign Relations Division in Thailand's Department of Water Resources,Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.Her work in the water sector began in 1997 with a stint at the Office of National Water Resources Committee (ONWRC).While there, she worked on the establishment of river basin committees (RBCs), and two pilots were set up in 1999. TheRBCs were given the mandate to manage water resources at a river basin scale. ONWRC partnered with the RoyalIrrigation Department (RID) shortly afterwards to establish RBCs throughout Thailand, but the partnership ended in 2002when ONWRC joined with other agencies to form the Department of Water Resources.Since then, the Department of Water Resources has worked on establishing the rest of the RBCs. Despite various problems, Thailand nowhas 29 RBCs for its 25 river basins. Of the 29 RBCs, only one committee is headed by a private sector representative—the Bang PakongRiver Basin Committee.The Bang Pakong River Basin is located in the eastern part of Thailand. Its catchment area, which is over 19,000 sq. km, is divided into 9sub-basins. In 2003, with support from the Food and Agriculture Organization and United Nations Environment Programme, the BangPakong Dialogue was initiated to promote cooperation in water management among stakeholders. In 2004, the Asian Development Bankfunded apilot and demonstration activity designed to strengthen the Bang Pakong River Basin Committee's capacity to reduce conflicts,
introduce water allocation, and promote integrated water resources management in the basin. Ms. Sukontha manages this project.The Bang Pakong Dialogue demonstrates how decisions on managing water resources in the river basin is arrived at and implemented withthe active participation of local stakeholders. River basins throughout Thailand are now studying the Bang Pakong experience for insightsapplicable in their own setting.
What major challenges plague the Bang Pakong riverbasin?
Each sub-basin has its own particular challenges dependingon the space and stakeholders involved. But the commonones are also wide-ranging—from the deteriorating waterecosystem that directly affects the people's livelihood, tothe lack of water supply for domestic use, to repeatedfloods, and polluted waters. Conflicts among water usersconstantly arise because of these challenges.
How does the Bang Pakong River Basin Committeeaddress these challenges?
People participation is key to the operation of theCommittee. Coordinators are identified within each sub-basin, and they provide the bridge that allows thegovernment and communities to design and implementappropriate solutions.At the grassroot level, the Committee challenges the peopleto find solutions to the issues. At the regional level, theCommittee submits the river basin's projects for funding bythe government or external sources. This process still needsto iron out some chinks but at the very least, the flow of funds from the central level to the river basin has started.
When the Committee was just starting, what issuesaffected its work the most?
The Committee's mandate was confusing at the start.Thailand's river basin committees are essentiallycoordinating bodies, not operations entities. The memberswho thought that they could directly solve the basin'sproblems got frustrated when they realized that they hadneither the authority nor the resources to do so. It took awhile before the Committee grew into its role asorchestrator of programs or activities implemented bydifferent agencies.Another barrier was the different, often opposing,perspectives of committee members. The Committee iscomposed of local administrative body representatives,water users, local NGOs, government officials, and privatesector delegates. Not only do their knowledge and attitudestowards the problems and potential solutions vary, but theyalso sometimes distrust each other's interests and goals.A chairperson who hails from the private sector—a veryunusual situation among Thailand's basin committees—wasalso not well accepted by Committee members from thegovernment sector. Add to this the fact that representativesfrom water user groups or communities, while armed withthe knowledge on the basin's problems and possiblesolutions, are often not articulate enough to air their views.