To mainstream active stakeholder participation in decision-making on water resources, public involvement is a key objective of the Mekong Water Dialogues (MWD) project. The MWD Thailand component has actively progressed in this direction, with the formulation of the people’s draft on the “integrated water resource management law”. This is a collaborative effort between the Law Reform Commission of Thailand, the NGO Assembly for the Protection of Environment and Natural Resources, the Asia Foundation, and IUCN under MWD.
Local public hearing workshops and reflection meetings have so far been held in seven provinces across Thailand. The objectives of these meetings have been to hear the community members’ feedback, concerns and interests in relation to water resource management. The dialogue process is vital because water impacts lives in every way - ranging from subsistence to commerce. More importantly, water is essential for maintaining the health of natural ecosystems. Therefore, its effective management is imperative.
Tawatchai Rattanasorn, Senior Programme Officer at IUCN Thailand, says “To address water management, we need a holistic view to meet the rising demands without causing environmental harm. Using a participatory approach, water resource management can be better understood by policy makers and the community.”
Conducted over two days each, the public hearing workshops cover the topics of water law, water management and flood prevention. The focus of the hearings is to review the articles proposed in the draft through public consultation. This process also aims to highlight the differences in this drafted law from that which is already in place. What the communities have been increasingly concerned with is the right to water resources, particularly for everyday subsistence uses. Though this concern is justified, the usage to which the water is put to will essentially determine who has the guaranteed right to access. For instance, water used for commerce or industry requires permits. Therefore, a key point which emerged through community deliberations was the need for outlining what qualifies as subsistence and commercial uses respectively, and what activities fall beneath these categories. The technicalities will then be determined by the law drafting committee.
If the drafted law is successfully passed, the basic right to water resources will be guaranteed for particular uses.
This will imply that water will be assured and free of charge only if used for the following needs -:
- Water for subsistence, household consumption and traditional uses
- Water for small-scale agricultural practices and household industries
- Water for ecosystems
The principle that has been followed during the drafting of the law is that water is a common resource and should be available for daily life. This is in contrast with the present legislation, which states that water is a state-owned resource. Commercial water use, however, will still require permits; particularly usage involving public water reservoirs and large scale water-centric development projects. The drafted law also includes a wetland component, which was earlier not considered a part of water resources.
Another point that the drafted law brings to light is that water user groups should have a role and responsibility in conservation management and rehabilitation of water resources. In this regard, sub-district administrative organisations can issue regulations to better address public needs on water resource-related issues at the local level. This will effectively decentralise water management and decision-making down to the lowest administrative level of the sub-district. Legal rights will also be kept in place such that polluters pay for damage they cause to the environment. In keeping with the decentralisation process, community members also need to have the right to petition for issues of conservation management and regulation. This is possible if a petition signed by 50% or more community members is submitted to the sub-district administrative body.
The drafting committee’s next meeting will be held to finalise the drafted law on December 12 2013 in Bangkok. The steps ahead involve campaigns for communicating about the components of the law to the public; especially through print and electronic media channels. During these campaign events, petitions will be launched for signing by community members between the close of this year till early 2014. This has involved reviewing existing drafts of the water law. Legal ratification will come from the Law Reform Commission of Thailand. Thereafter, the draft law will be proposed to the Members of Parliament and the Senate. The Drafting Committee will assign public representatives the role of being involved in reviewing the law.
“Water is important for lives and it is essential for our economy and society. It is our collective responsibility to practice responsible water resource management. Through the public consultative process, we have taken into account concerns of users to better serve the needs of all. This makes water a tool for peace-building. If the law is successfully passed, it will facilitate positive developments as not only is the subsistence angle being looked at, but so are the environmental aspects”, says Rattanasorn.
By Ria Sen