Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Thailand's US$12b water management programme faces criticisms

Critics at the Second Asia Pacific Water Summit in Chiang Mai have taken aim at the Thai government's US$12 billion water management plan.

Academics and policy makers said the flood programme was expensive and unsound.

They said the plan does not factor in environmental or health impact assessments on flood prone areas, violating Thailand's constitution.

Thailand's Science and Technology Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi has hit back at the critics, referring to them as "garbage".

The minister has even swapped his suit and tie for the traditional dress of an ancient Thai king, famous for his water management programme.

His stunt, however, was described as inappropriate by his opponents.

In 2011, after Thailand's worst floods in half a century, the government drafted a massive US$11.8 billion plan to manage water resources.

The government said the comprehensive plan will bolster private sector confidence, after devastating floods in 2011 cost companies billions of dollars.

But others disagree, saying there needs to be much more local consultation and people's participation before moving ahead. 

Critics said the plan could irrevocably change vast areas of Thai farmland. 

Sasin Chalermlarp, secretary-general of the Seubnakasathien Foundation, said: "Water management is a massive undertaking, since we are talking about the alteration of the biodiversity in a vast area of the central plain (of Thailand), which has been transformed from natural fields to urban areas without any guidance."

The Thai government said assessments are being done, along with the bidding and planning, rather than before the start of the projects, as is standard practice. 

Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, Minister to the Office of the Prime Minister, said: "Another way is to conduct the EIA and HIA first, but this would be time consuming. It may take more than a year or two before we can open the bidding process.

"This way we could do it (the feasibility studies) in parallel with implementing the project. They (the private companies) will have to make assessments. They presented the price of the project, and they will be responsible. So we are not ignoring the assessment process." 

These crucial assessments provide a decision-making framework for developers and contractors, so that they can modify plans to safeguard against environmental dangers. 

But done at the same time, there is no room to adapt to what the assessments might say. Even a former member of the government's water management council has taken issue with the plan.

Utain Shartpinyo, former government advisor on water management, said: "The building of roads, dikes will involve communities from northern and central Thailand, encompassing vast areas and covering hundreds of kilometres. Problems will surely arise. Also, because these projects will be carried out by the private sector, this could create a loophole and conflict of interests between landowners and officials."

The bidding process on the mega project is moving forward, with winners slated to be announced next month.-Channel News Asia

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