Country Water Actions

Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals,
communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.

Thailand: Driving Change—The Bang Pakong River Basin Committee
Experience
April 2007

By Maria Christina Duenas
Knowledge Management Officer
If there’s one truth the people along the Bang Pakong River
Basin now believe, it’s that the piecemeal approach rarely
works for the majority. They should know, too. For years,
they watched how one group would solve their water
problem only to the detriment of another group—usually
downstream.
It’s a classic case of needing to see the forest through the
trees—also known as Integrated Water Resource
Management (IWRM). The new Bang Pakong River Basin
Committee (BPRBC) found a way to do this, and with the
private sector in an unusual, and sometimes uncomfortable
but successful, role.
Just how did the Committee get everyone along a
notoriously conflicted river to sit down and play nice?
MAKING MATTERS WORSE, BEFORE THEY GET
BETTER
In the Bang Pakong
River, solutions have
not always lived up to
their intentions,
sometimes causing
more conflict than
resolution.
For example, in 1999,
a barrage was built to
keep out salt water. Its construction has been eroding the
river bank and silting the water, though. And livelihoods
have been drastically altered.
“We make Thai sweets instead of fishing,” says Chawee
Boonprom, one of the many fishermen forced to take odd
jobs now that the river is polluted. “It pays very little
money, but it’s better than doing nothing.”
Even cultural traditions have been affected.
“We have problems sailing our statue of Buddha along the
river for people to pay tribute to,” says a local resident.
More conflict has surfaced about 60 kilometers up from the
barrage, where a canal slide gate is being blamed for
polluting water downstream and damaging aquaculture. The
gate opens every November to drain the river, which dries
the rice fields for harvesting. Lining the canal, though, is a
number of paper companies that people suspect are
dumping their wastes in the river and killing the fish
downstream. In November 2006, more than 80 million baht
worth of dead fish were carted off.

Unfortunately, the basin has become threatened by water
pollution, frequent flooding, salt water intrusion and
conflicts among agricultural, industrial, and household users.
Conflicts over the different uses of the river have become
more common with each day. Working piecemeal—roping in
one set of stakeholders to resolve one burning issue at a
given time—may produce a good solution. But, as the
barrage experience proves, one solution may have
unforeseen ripple effects, not all of them positive. This
highlights the need to manage the basin’s resources in a
more holistic manner.
With assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB),
the Bang Pakong River Basin Committee (BPRBC) decided to
pursue integrated and participatory basin management.
MAKING UNIQUENESS WORK
To get to the bottom of
all the conflicts arising
on the Bang Pakong,
the ADB offered
technical assistance to
the Bang Pakong River
Basin Committee. The
project was designed
to upgrade the
Committees awareness
on basin issues and IWRM. Working from there, the
Committee planned a series of multistakeholder dialogues.
The success of these dialogues would be measured by their
results, specifically, their ability to sustainably resolve
conflicts for communities that would not adversely affect
other communities.
In an unprecedented move, the Committee elected a chair
from the private sector—Mr. Chamroon Suaydee, restaurant
owner and president of the Pranchunburi Province Tourist
Club. Bang Pakong is the only one among 29 basin
committees in Thailand with a chair from the private sector.
At first, this didn’t work well for the Committee. Government
representatives weren’t accustomed to ceding authority, and
often refused to participate in the dialogues. On the other
hand, this also seemed to be the magic wand for business
and civil society representatives who, with their general
distrust of centrally initiated projects, quickly jumped on
board.

The chair persisted in bringing the different stakeholder
groups for dialogues.
“Chamroon mobilized his contacts in the private sector and
civil society networks to get the dialogues started, and then
brought the results to the government agencies, prompting
them to take action,” says Sukontha Aekeraj, director of the
Foreign Relations Division of the Department of Water
Resources. Aekaraj manages the Committee’s project with
ADB.
Today, Committee members from the private sector are
active custodians of the basin, often working side by side
with community groups to serve as watchdogs of large
companies and industries perceived as potential polluters of
the river.
CONFLICTS MEET THEIR SOLUTIONS
Eventually, the Bang Pakong dialogue involved all the
different users of the river— government agencies,
businesses and industries, nongovernment organizations,
and community groups, such as fishermen and farmers.
More than 20 workshops and consultations have been
convened since the start of the project. Many of these
helped stakeholders understand the Committee’s mandate
and learn IWRM principles and practices. Majority of the
sessions, however, focused on understanding specific
conflicts in the river basin, and finding solutions. For such
sessions, the Committee deliberately leaves the agenda
open so that the stakeholders can raise the issues
paramount to them. This bottom-up approach has earned
the trust of local stakeholders, and gave the BPRBC much
needed inputs in terms of data and solutions.
The Committee also pilot tested water use surveys in
selected basin sub-districts. Not only did this strengthen its
ability to undertake research about the people in the basin,
but it also gave a voice to individual stakeholders. Data
revealed a widespread misunderstanding over water issues
at the community level. Despite that, the Committee now
has a better understanding of what really drives water
demand in the basin, and what development initiatives will
be most useful in the coming years.

LIFE AFTER CONFLICT
“The fact that the
Committee gets the
government sector,
civil society, and
communities to work
together on a common
project is already a big
achievement,” says
Aekaraj.
The Committee is not resting on its recent laurels, though.
Today, the Committee continues to pursue constant dialogue
with stakeholders and is also gearing up for work beyond
conflict resolution. In 2009, the Department of Water
Resources once more sought funding from the PDA Facility
to demonstrate participatory water allocation processes to
inform the formulation of corresponding policies and
guidelines. In this “after-care” PDA, the Committee is taking
the lead in stimulating stakeholders’ participation in
formulating a detailed policy, plan, and manual for effective
water allocation in Bang Pakong.
Related Links
Water Champion: Sukontha Aekaraj—Bang Pakong
River Basin: Resolving Conflicts Through Dialogue
Pilot and Demonstration Activity: Bang Pakong
Dialogue Initiative
Pilot and Demonstration Activity : Stimulating
Participatory Process for Water Allocation in Bang
Pakong
Country Water Action: Disputes Beneath the Surface
of Bang Pakong

__________________________________
*This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in April 2007: http://www.adb.org/Water/Actions/tha/driving-change-bangpakong.asp.
The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADB’s member countries. It
offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private
sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments
in the Asia and Pacific region.

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