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20 August 2014
Read in Minutes


Water plan needs focus, experts say

Patsara Jikkham

NCPO urged to let public provide input

Experts have warned the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to carefully handle water management plans, fearing they could be disorganised, redundant and lacking a clear direction.

They raised their concerns after the NCPO told state agencies to propose ideas for dealing with water-related problems and help revise some projects in the controversial 350-billion-baht water management scheme.

But with suggestions rolling in from disparate agencies, the plans could end up “redundant and disorganised”, said economist Nipon Poapongsakorn, a distinguished fellow at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI).

During a seminar on national water management yesterday, Mr Nipon urged the NCPO to work under a framework he called “six levels of water management”.

All state agencies must first agree on a shared goal, settling differences in their proposals and ensuring a clear direction.

Second, officials must encourage the private sector and public to take part in water management. Mr Nipon said they must end their habit of running projects alone without heeding anyone else.

So far, the only public participation has been at hearings Mr Nipon likened to “mandatory ceremonies”, set up to announce decisions on state projects that have already been made.

The third level is to collectively weigh approaches to water shortage, inundation and waste water. Similar integration must be also made in the fourth level, when land and water use issues are jointly discussed.

In the fifth step, the NCPO must clarify what water management plans should be centralised and which should be left in the hands of local officials.

Deunden Nikomborirak, TDRI director for economic governance, said the regime should only set policy and not carry out the projects itself. Decentralising water management is a good option, but local budget constraints may hinder the effort, she added.

Lastly, the NCPO needs to address climate change, Mr Nipon said.

This is a major concern of Rangsit University’s Disaster Warning Centre director Seree Supharatid, who insisted Thailand must start investigating the risks of uncertain weather patterns that could impact the economy and society.

Sucharit Koontanakulvong, Chulalongkorn University’s director for water resources system research, said the country is facing limitations on water, energy and manpower. Failure to solve these problems will force industries out of the country when it faces higher risks of water shortages and natural disasters in the future.

He agrees with other experts’ warnings that the NCPO should not simply cobble together various suggestions.

“We are talking about drafting a master plan,” Mr Sucharit said. “That is not an act of combining plans together.”

The NCPO is reviewing the 350-billion baht water management scheme, introduced by Yingluck Shinawatra’s government following the 2011 floods that inundated most parts of Thailand, wreaking economic havoc.

But the measures, which include constructing a reservoir and a floodway, raised concerns about possible impacts on the environment and the people and were criticised as poorly thought out.

The NCPO issued an order in June to suspend all water-related management plans, pending clear reviews from state agencies.

The military leadership has said it would only carry out near-term changes due to the short period of its interim government.

Thus, Mr Sucharit suggested, the NCPO should speed up enacting a water resources bill and establishing a fund for developing infrastructure concerning water management.

“These will pave the way for the longrun plans,” he said.


First published: ฺBangkok Post, August 20, 2014