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: Women Water Warriors Bent on Saving Bangkok “Klong”
May 2006

Bangkok’s waterways or “klongs”—where people in Thailand’s capital used to row their way to other destinations in the city—are fast disappearing. Some, like the Hua Lamphong Klong, have become stagnant and choked with urban trash. Today, a group of women water warriors have begun fighting for the survival of Hua Lamphong Klong. CLEANING THE HUA LAMPHONG KLONG Hua Lamphong Klong in Bangkok, Thailand runs alongside the Klong Toey slum area. The canal’s water is black, and its stench wafts through the air. Nevertheless, 53year-old Siriporn Sawasdee insists that the water quality in the klong is actually so much better now. “There are fish and frogs in the water,” Siripon said. “But still, nobody dares to eat them yet because even the fish’ eyes have turned black.” In 2001, Siriporn spearheaded a campaign to rehabilitate the Hua Lamphong canal, which passes right behind her community of 300 families, all living in this informal settlement. Named “A Clean Hua Lamphong Canal Is Essential to Our Community,” the community project started with simple, low-key campaigns encouraging people not to throw garbage into the klong. Today, they also plant trees on the klong’s banks and build bamboo fences to discourage people from dumping waste into the water. NO LONGER THE VENICE OF SOUTHEAST ASIA Bangkok used to be called “The Venice of the East,” a title that came from the abundance of waterways snaking through the city. This was true until most of the klongs were reclaimed to make way for roads. “Before, the klongs were a part of everyone’s lives,” Siriporn said. “People used the klongs for bathing, washing, drinking, and transportation. But when they were filled up, they slowly disappeared from people’s minds. Now, hardly anybody ever thinks about them anymore.” In the 19th century, the klongs provided the main means of transport in Bangkok, feeding into the Chao Phraya River. Over the last two generations, hundreds of kilometers of waterways have been filled to widen roads or make room for housing and commercial buildings. So abandoned were the city’s klongs that those existing today have become waste receptacles for the city’s 6 million-plus inhabitants.
__________________________________ Based on the article of Frances Suselo, Asia Water Wire journalist

SIMPLE SOLUTIONS AND LOW-TECHNOLOGY ALSO WORK The success of the project to clean the Hua Lamphong Klong rests on community efforts and its women leaders. “Every month, we have a community meeting where we discuss and receive feedback about this project,” said Supanee Tiamseeha, another woman water warrior and the present community leader at Hua Lamphong. Most of the community pitches in and even children make brochures and pamphlets on ways to clean up the klong. Supanee adds, “We don’t use any high-tech machinery to clean the water. We simply put an effective microorganisms (EM) solution—consisting of lactic acid bacteria, photosynthetic bacteria and yeast—into the water.” This EM solution is used to treat dirty water in the households before being released into the canal. Special holes were built next to the canal where dirty water could be treated by the EM solution. However, the treatment holes are now left unused because the Klong Toey district often released so much water from the main canal and the extra water washed over the holes, killed all the plants, and almost destroyed the project. THE WATER BATTLE GOES ON Most of the pollution in the klongs comes from surrounding hotels, schools, and other establishments. Siriporn sent letters and asked for their cooperation to help clean up the Hua Lamphong Klong, but to no avail. Resistance comes from inside the community as well. Supanee said, “It’s also very hard for us to deal with people who don’t want to cooperate with this project.” Residents who do not live right next to the waterway are not very concerned about the problem. “Some people do not have the sense that they belong here,” Siriporn said ruefully. “They feel that this isn’t their business. Others are simply not informed. Then there are also others who feel it’s just a waste of time to even care about the dirty klong because even if they try to keep this portion of the canal clean, people in other places still dump waste into the water.” With so many obstacles standing in their way, it is a wonder that these two women still trudge on. “It’s a matter of community pride,” Siriporn said. “We would like people to understand that the dirty canal is not just ‘my’ and ‘your’ problem. It’s ‘our’ problem. It’s everybody’s problem.” Siriporn claims, “It really is not hard to do at all. You can simply start by not throwing rubbish into the klong. If everybody cooperates, the canal will be completely healthy again in five years.” In the meantime, the women water warriors continue their fight for Hua Lamphong Klong.

*This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in May 2006: -klong.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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