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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.
Thailand: Promoting Rainwater Harvesting, Preserving Rainwater Jar Culture
By Cezar Tigno Web Writer An ancient solution to a modern problem? True, the 2,000year-old Thai tradition of capturing rainfall into jars has seen an interesting revival in the northeastern part of the country in recent years. Production of these rain jars have increased, bringing additional income to households, and securing water for entire communities for the years to come. Will other countries pursuing similar endeavors achieve the same success? JUMBO JAR CULTURE In rural Northeastern Thailand, a house is not a home if it does not have at least one huge rainwater jar. Every household depends on their rain jar for their daily water needs. Some even depend on rain jars sales for their livelihood. “I make 4-6 jars a day,” says a jar factory worker in Nongbuadeedneem town. Together with three other workers, they make rain jars that can hold an average of 2,000 liters of water and cost only about US$15 each (Baht 650). Production cost is about Baht 250300. REVIVING A TRADITION Rain jars have always been a staple of local Thai culture. With modern water problems, the rain jar tradition offers a practical solution to groundwater salinity and water scarcity common in Northeastern Thailand. Prior to the revival of rain jars for water storage, many communities have found it difficult to protect their drinking water from contamination and insect breeding. The resurgence of the rain jar tradition began in 1979, when the Royal Thai government called for decentralized approaches to rural water development, and zeroed in on three low-cost technologies—rainwater jars and community water tanks for drinking water supply, shallow wells for domestic water and water weirs for agriculture. For monsoon-prone Thailand, rainwater harvesting provides an alternative source of water supply, as annual average rainfall in the country measures 1400 millimeter, and rain is expected 6 months a year. Aside from addressing domestic water requirements at the community level, the initiative spurred substantial rural job creation and local mobilization. Today, the rain jars make immediate and dramatic improvements in the quality of Thai rural life.
MASS MANUFACTURING In Khon Kaen province, jar manufacturing businesses are mostly small-scale, private enterprises. Surprisingly, for some manufacturers, jar making is a part-time business and provides much needed added income. “I only make rain jars from 5am to 9am,” a jar manufacturer from Khon Kaen said. He is actually a full time paddy farmer and works in the field the rest of the day.
A 2,000 liter Thai jar provides water security for a 6member household all-year round and can spare women and children from having to collect and carry water from burdensome distances. Though the practice of rainwater harvesting using these jumbo jars is more than 2,000 years old, it was only recently that the Thai rain jar has gained popularity as an inexpensive and practical solution to the water problems of Thailand’s northeastern provinces. Thanks to the government’s Rainwater Jar Program, the production of rain jars have increased tremendously in the past decades. From 1985 to 1991 alone, over 10 million jars were manufactured from a pool of funds, both from government and local and international donors, amounting to Baht 64 million. Today, rainwater jar manufacturing has also become an important booster of the rural economy.
For one jar, he uses two bags of cement, two wheelbarrowloads of “rock dust,” and a wheelbarrow-load of sand. The rain jars can hold anywhere from 100 to 3,000 liters of water, and come equipped with lid, faucet, and drain. The most popular size is 2000 liters jar which can sustain a sixperson household for six months during the dry season. Majority of the sellers charge the same price for all jar sizes. “The jars also come with a five-year guaranty against leaks, and can last for more than 10 years,” the jar maker said. Working in partnership with local NGO Population and Community Development Association, the government subsidized the cost of design and construction as well as training expenses and building materials. Village workshops we re also conducted on safe water supply alongside proper use of rain jars. In many villages, rain jars are displayed in the spacious yards of manufacturers, and one can just walk in and make a purchase for immediate delivery. They are even peddled on barges along Thai canals and waterways. HARVESTING RAIN FOR HOUSEHOLDS Households play a key role in the project in terms of provisioning and maintenance. They are responsible for securing their own rain jar either by making it themselves or by purchase. Household representatives were taught simple and affordable designs by trained jar makers. This encouraged villagers to work together and pool their resources whenever necessary. In cases when villages do not have sufficient labor for making jars, they can access a revolving fund that can provide US$250 per village to assist in purchasing the jars. The loan can be paid in equal installments with no interest charged for three years. As a result, outright purchases of rain jars increased.
CLEAN ENOUGH FOR DRINKING? Contrary to popular belief that water becomes stale with extended storage, rainwater quality often improves as bacteria and pathogens gradually die off. Many households actually prefer rainwater over Source: http://www.unicef.org groundwater for drinking because it is clearer and tastes fresh. However, rain jars must be covered at all times to steer clear of grime and mosquito infestation. Rooftops must also be sturdy, clean, and made from non-toxic materials to ensure rainwater quality. They must also be far from hanging tree branches to avoid bird and other animal droppings. After the program was launched, many households shifted from thatched roofs to zinc sheets to increase the volume of rain collected. Gutters and connecting pipes were properly installed to maximize capture. The success of the Thai jar program has reached international recognition, and other countries are pursuing similar technologies, noting rain jars’ sustainable economic and health benefits.
_______________________________ *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in December 2007: http://www.adb.org/water/actions/THA/Jar-Culture.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.