Stories from the field Author: Pakamas Thinphanga Comments
ASIA: Thailand

This paper is one of a series ACCCRN has commissioned as a set of scoping studies supported by our collaborating partner, the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation programme (ESPA). They provide insight into how evidence is used (or not) in urban decision-making in the context of ecosystem hazards as cities expand into their broader landscapes. The complete Thailand paper is available through this link.

Over the last 25 years, Thailand has industrialised and successfully achieved the status of Newly Industrialised Country. While urbanisation is dominated by Bangkok, which accounts for nearly 80% of the country’s total urban area, urban centres in secondary cities are growing at a much faster rate. Issues of drastic land use change, inadequate urban systems and critical infrastructure, pollution and contamination, and inequality and poverty are manifested much of Thailand. The interaction of urbanisation and climate change create new forms and magnitudes of risks and compound vulnerabilities. Urban governments and communities must deal with increasingly complex challenges in response to shocks and crises. 

Most urban centres are geographically located in low-lying, floodplain, riverine, delta or coastal areas. In the past, these areas provided easy access for transportation for commerce and trades. As urban areas continue to expand, they grow into naturally hazardous space. Rice fields and farmlands are converted into built environment for housing, industries and urban infrastructure. Rapid urban and economic growth has resulted in significant losses of terrestrial, freshwater and marine resources and habitats across the country. Urbanisation is largely driven by business investment and economic development. Urban land use plans are not enforced and urban planning is ineffective.

Historical events, such as the 2011 flood crisis, provide illustration of the interaction and implications of urbanisation and climate change. The 2011 flood disaster, the worst crisis in 70 years, affected more than 13 million people in 66 provinces and resulted in 680 deaths. The largest flood disaster caused damages and losses amounted to 1.43 trillion Baht (USD 45.7million). Although the economic impacts were largely on the manufacturing sector as seven industrial estates in Central Thailand were flooded, through the global supply chains automotive and electronic factories across the world were also disrupted.

The 2011 floods were caused partly by reaction to a severe drought in the previous year. Dams were kept full throughout early rainy season of 2011. After months of unexpected heavy rainfall, spill over and emergency discharge increased water levels to already saturated low-lying, floodplains, exacerbating flooding in the Central Plain. Following the 2011 flood disaster, water supply shortages hit many parts of Thailand in 2012. This was caused partly by reaction to the major flood in the previous year as dams were emptied out to allow more room for rainwater storage to prevent flooding.

Policy and planning processes in Thailand present complex challenges. Advice and recommendations from experts and academics are often ignored. Public participation is almost entirely lacking. Influencing consideration of ecosystems and ecosystem services in urban development planning can be done through bottom-up approaches. Environmental public policy developed by community leaders and members to protect and manage natural resources and ecosystems is likely to be more successfully implemented and followed through. Reports show local communities depending on natural resources for their livelihoods will identify issues, such as environmental degradation, participate as networks to protect and manage ecosystems, and seek academic and expert advice to develop and enforce regulations.

To influence and contribute to informed decision-making process, the Shared Learning Dialogue approach is a useful tool in engaging with multiple stakeholders and in capacity building. The government structure and policy planning processes are not flexible, but involving provincial governor and elected government officials who are decision makers with cross-sectoral government agencies and departments, as well as representatives of the civil society and academia in dialogues is an effective way to influence change. This is an iterative process that requires building working relationship and trust over time.

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