Nature-based water management – how is Thailand adapting to climate change?

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Thailand is among the top ten countries most threatened by climate change. Faced with these challenges, it has adopted an ambitious plan to become one of the leading countries in the Southeast Asian region by 2037, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). One of the ways to achieve this is through proper water management, specifically, targeting activities to “cooperate” with nature.

Climate change in Thailand

Thailand’s temperature has risen by 1.04°C in 40 years (1970-2009) . This trend is expected to continue. Temperature by 2090. may increase by 3.23°C on average, compared to 1986-2005. Climate change entails extreme weather events. Admittedly, this is not unusual in Thailand, but their strength and scale are surprising. Rains occur less frequently, but are more abundant. Droughts are longer and more severe for nature and society(OECD). Climate change is one of many factors affecting the condition and quality of Thailand’s waters. They also include rapid economic development and intensive tourism.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment – MONRE – has developed a Climate Change Master Plan for 2018-2050. The government has also put forward several other plans and strategies, with water management taking center stage among them. The 2018-3037 Water Resources Master Plan focuses on nature-based solutions.

Top-down water management

The Thai government is well aware of the need to take action on climate change. Water is life, food security and economic development. Studies of completed water management projects in Thailand with a focus on nature show that large government investments are worth supplementing with green solutions. Such connections are a very effective response to climate challenges. An example is the Chao Phraya River basin, where traditional solutions have been combined with green roofs and a network of ponds.

In this case, we can talk about NBS, or Nature-Based Solutions. NBS is a term for innovative solutions based on the ecosystem and natural processes of nature, including rivers. Managing water in this way is supposed to reduce the risk of natural disasters and serve nature and man(ScienceDirect). NBS has been included in Thailand’s 20-year water management plan. Examples include wetland restoration and protection or afforestation of catchment areas.

Changing the natural course of a river – effects

In 2011. Thailand has experienced record high rainfall(RMetS). Floods also did not spare Bangkok and provided the impetus for change. The flow of the river has been modified by dams and drainage systems, and floodplains have been adapted for rice cultivation. The controlled flow of the river to lower areas, to the flood plain, protects against floods and stores water for periods of drought. For most residents, water management, by designating a new river course, is beneficial. However, such heavy interference with nature also has negative effects, which come in the form of disconnection from the natural flood plain and reduced fish catches.

Local water management

Water management problems originate in local communities, and it is at the local level that authorities in Thailand should seek solutions to them. One such initiative was the construction of weirs on the Khlong-La River in 2014-2016. Bamboo nets were filled with natural materials and created low dams. The local community planted trees and lower vegetation along the river.

Local water management means low construction costs: cheap materials and labor from local residents. Here’s to big community benefits. In recent years, these areas have been less vulnerable to flooding or drought-induced water shortages. The local investment has also improved the relationship between residents and the government. Researchers point to several risks associated with the project. Among them is a concern over water contamination with sand from bags used in the construction of some weirs.

Barriers to water resources management

One of the main problems in Thailand is the lack of coordinated action. Water management is an issue handled by various organizations and cells under several different ministries. It is necessary to develop a common plan based on solutions that are compatible with the ecosystem. As Thai researchers point out, the local community’s voice, experience and knowledge is also important in the planning process.

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