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Experts debate managing flood/drought crises

Jun 20. 2016
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THAILAND’S serious water challenges have come under scrutiny from visiting foreign specialists and the influential Utokapat Foundation under the Royal Patronage of His Majesty the King.
A forum in Bangkok at the weekend heard how water management in the Kingdom needed to be tackled at both community level and by the business sector under the Pracha Rath (State of the People) scheme.
Water management specialists attended from the Netherlands, Israel and Singapore – countries selected for the way they successfully coped with their water problems – who had advice for Thailand as it sought solutions.
Last year Thailand faced one of the biggest droughts in decades, just four years after the momentous floods in the Central Plain. These events were discussed in the Thailand Sustainable Water Management Forum 2016 yesterday to find solutions for the water management challenges of the nation.
Utokapat Foundation chairman Sumet Tantivejkul told the forum that the major cause of water problems in Thailand was the great variability of rain patterns due to climate change. Small water reservoirs were essential to reduce the loss from this precipitation uncertainty.
“Consider the amount of average annual rainfall in Thailand – we receive around 754,000 million cubic metres of rain per year. That is more than enough for the annual water demand of around 100,000 million cubic metres,” Sumet said. 
“However, only 5.7 per cent of rainfall – or 70,370 million cubic metres – emptied into the reservoirs. This situation worsened because of the increasing uncertainty of the precipitation, which has climbed up from nine per cent to 24 per cent recently.”
In order to remedy such a situation, he urged the business sector, which has the ability to support water management projects, to work with the Pracha Rath scheme to conduct water management and conservation programmes from the headwaters to the delta.
He also encouraged communities to construct ponds in their villages to be “monkey cheek” reservoirs to keep water for the dry season and store it in case of floods in the rainy season.
“We need to empower people to lead problem-solving with regards to water in their areas with the authorities’ support, just like HM the King’s recommendation in 2011 – that we must let people learn from each other in water management,” he said. 
In an effort to tackle flood and drought, Tjitte A Nauta from Deltares (a Dutch research group), suggested the Thai government be more proactive on water management. It must plan ahead carefully, based on well-rounded studies, and work in cooperation with nature.
“From our country’s experience on flood prevention in areas lower than average sea level, we have to make simulations of flooding in order to plan ahead correctly on how to mitigate a flood,” Nauta said.
“Therefore, my recommendation to Thailand is to plan long-term water management in a well-studied and integrated approach. The plan must be flexible for adaptation and – more importantly – avoid building against nature, but building with nature.”
While Gabi Weinberger, Israeli Government Authority for Water and Sewage’s director of hydrological service, said Israel copes with water scarcity by implementing intensive water recycling and using desalination technology to produce drinking water from the sea.
“Israel is an arid country, so we don’t have enough water... However, we are now investing in technology to treat sewage for agricultural use and desalination of sea water for consumption,” Gabi informed.
“As of now, we have 39 desalination plants along the shore, that provide 50 per cent of drinking water in the country and more than 100 water treatment plants. We aim to produce 100 per cent of our drinking water from seawater in 2020 and treat 90 per cent of waste water by the end of this year,”

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