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Water Champion

Water Champions initiate or implement water reforms in their chosen field, and are directly involved in improving the water situation in their respective countries.

Wasan Jompakdee: IWRM and the Ping River: Sharing Water

June 2004

By Maria Christina Dueas Knowledge Management Officer ABOUT THE CHAMPION

Assistant Professor Dr. Wasan Jompakdee is the Vice Dean of Chiang Mai University's Faculty of Engineering. He is also the head and founder of the Coordinating Committee for the Protection of the Ping River Basin and Environment (CCPE), a non-profit, civil society organization established in 1993 to coordinate the various government and civil society efforts to restore the Ping River's integrity. From 1998 up to the present, he has served as member of the Working Group for the Environmental Protection of Chiang Mai. When the Upper Ping River Basin committee was established in 1999, Dr. Wasan again served as an active member. Dr. Wasan was awarded best river keeper by the Thai government in 2001. To date, he continues to work for the sharing, protection and restoration of the Ping River. In 2003, he was featured in ADB's video documentary about the Ping River, entitled "Upstream Downstream."

What is integrated water resources management to you on a personal level? As a boy, I was raised in a farming community, with huge rice fields at the back of our house. The Ping River was a constant presence to our community -it is where we catch fish during rainy season, where we get water for irrigation. Sharing is a way of life to our communitywhether it is sharing labor, buffalos or water in irrigation canalsso I have actually been practicing IWRM without knowing it as IWRM. To me, IWRM is a modern term for human wisdom in respecting and living in harmony with nature. How is IWRM implemented at the Ping River? IWRM is about the overall management of rivers, lakes, groundwater, and river basins. In 1999 the Upper Ping River Basin Committee was established as the forum for all stakeholders on the Ping to find common grounds for sharing and protecting our vital river system. Through this Committee, the different communities of the Ping, local NGOs and government departments concerned with water resources management have begun to work together to find the balance between conflicting demands of water. Fifteen sub-watershed committees were also established at the same time on the 15 major tributaries of the Ping River. So far, Upper Ping River Basin Committee has successfully helped water resource users of the Ping River manage their conflicting demands. What do you think accounts for this success? There is a Thai word "Nam Jai" that means "water from the heart." It also refers to kindness, compassion and sympathy, which are pillars for peace in our society. People are convinced that without "Nam Jai" and the proper care of our watershed system, nobody will survive or be truly happy. What factors contributed to the implementation of IWRM in the Ping River? The local farming communities of the Upper Ping River Basin have an indigenous form of water management that has existed for more than 700 years. Called the "Muang - Fai, " it calls for strong solidarity and cooperation among the members of various communities. Despite the changing times and more complex problems, this solidarity and cooperation still exist and serve as a good foundation for modern IWRM in Thailand.

Another factor is the shift in policy. For the past 50 years or so, people were made to feel that only the government should manage natural resources, and the top-down policy approach was often implemented. But with the new Thai Constitution enacted in 1997, the rights of indigenouslocal communities and their traditional wisdom in natural resources management were again recognized. What were the major challenges in managing water resources in an integrated manner? A major challenge is obviously getting all the stakeholders to participate and think collectively to ensure that everybody has adequate access to water. Participation, in itself, is complex; it is further complicated by the increasing diversity of water user groups. Now, water must be shared not only with farming communities but also with other sectors, e.g. tourism, industry, domestic use. What key messages do you have regarding the sharing of water resources? First, the fundamental truth-water is life. Where there is water, there will be life. As such, everyone must do his part to ensure that water is managed sustainably. Second, everyone lives downstream. We cannot use water so unrestrainedly that we jeapardize the lives of the people living downstream, because the people living upstream from us can do the same thing. I always call people's attention to a famous gesture of the Buddha statue, the one with his right palm up to prohibit "Water War" among his friends and relatives. Everybody needs water! Finally, I want to make the Thai people realize that if we maintain healthy forests and take good care of our environment, we will have enough water for everyone. If we live in harmony with nature, nature will provide enough resources to sustain our life. RELATED LINKS
Upstream, Downstream - video and case study Rivers in Jeopardy and the Role of Civil Society in River Restoration: Thai Experience

_______________________________ *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in June 2004: The Water Champions series was developed to showcase individual leadership and initiative in implementing water sector reforms and good practices in Asia and the Pacific. The champions, representing ADBs developing member countries, are directly involved in improving the water situation in their respective countries or communities. The series is regularly featured in ADBs Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.