By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
THAILAND clearly has faith in its traditional water-management system to cope with extreme weather brought on by climate change.
However, environmentalists warn that instead of relieving the negative effects of climate change, dams and large-irrigation projects only cause further damage, as dams only intensify the already heavy pressure on the ecosystem.
At a conference on water management and climate change held in Bangkok yesterday, water-management agencies from Asean member states said dams and large-scale irrigation projects remain the authorities’ first choice when it comes to preventing floods and drought, as well as to sustainably divide limited water resources. The forum was entitled “Asia’s Water-Energy-Food Nexus and Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs]”.
Similarly, Sanya Saengpumpong, the Royal Irrigation Department (RID)’s irrigation engineering expert, said that despite strong criticism, investment in new large-scale irrigation projects is important for the country to mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change and achieve SDGs.
“Thailand now has its first long-term strategy on water management, while RID and other agencies are focusing on ensuring efficient water supply for all, providing enough water to sustain the country’s economic advancement, preventing water-related disasters, mitigating water pollution and conserving water-head forestland,” Sanya said.
“Without dams and other large-irrigation projects being used for water-supply management and control, we will not be able to achieve any of these goals.”
He added water management has improved under this junta-led government, as Thailand now has the Office of National Water Resources (ONWR) as a centralised water policymaker, contributing to coordinated and efficient implementation of national water-management policies.
“Over the last four years, we have built many new reservoirs and increased the total storage capacity nationwide to more than 16 billion cubic metres and expanded irrigated land to 3 million rai [480,000 hectares],” he said.
“This ensures that people in newly irrigated areas can expand their farms and boost their income, while at the same time be assured that they will face fewer impacts from flood and drought.”
According to an earlier report, RID director-general Thongplew Kongjun revealed that RID was planning to complete the construction of the 239 remaining new irrigation projects this year. At the end of 2018, the department completed the construction of 2,860 out of 3,099 planned projects.
Thongplew also said that under the 2019-2023 water-management strategy, RID will prioritise 10 mega projects worth more than Bt500 billion, such as the Khong-Loei-Chi-Mun water-diversion project. The department will submit these projects to the Cabinet for approval soon.
However, Maha Sarakham University lecturer Chainarong Setthachua warned that these mega-irrigation projects will cause more harm than good.
He said not only will local people suffer significantly from the loss of livelihood from environmental degradation, there will also be clashes and human-rights violations stirred by the lack of public participation.
Chainarong cited the conflicts raised by the decision to build the Wangheep Dam in Nakhon Si Thammarat despite objections raised by academics and locals, who said damages to the environment, the river’s ecosystem and people’s livelihood would significantly surpass the actual benefits of the dam.
However, the authorities chose to go ahead with the project and even filed lawsuits against the protesters.
The lecturer also said large-scale irrigation projects and dams were an outdated form of water management and had proved to be ineffective in preventing flood and drought, but have instead intensified water problems.