Ban Rong Mai – “Come in, take a shower, it is so hot today,” that is such a strange but sweet welcome for two uninvited Vietnamese guests, like us, on arriving at Ban Rong Mai village, Bang Chan Sub-distrcit, Klung District, Chanthaburi province, Thailand.
Strange because we were invited to shower, but sweet because fresh water is so precious for the island – five minutes on boat from sea, and surrounded by salty water for the entire year.
A 70-year old man and his wife would spend around 25 baht (almost one US dollar) per day each to buy fresh water, transported by three large boats, for the village of around 1,000 people.
Local residents recently faced serious water shortages around March, April and May as boats needed to travel about two hours to get fresh water, but were not able to dock at the pier because of low water levels.
At such a time money is nothing, even though that much money (25 baht) is enough to feed an islander for one day.
“We have bought fresh water all of my life. Luckily, we are able to afford that,” he said.
He owns one fish cage and his wife opens a store at home.
When younger, he was a fisherman. He would fish for six months per year during the dry season, but now he is retired.
“Since two years ago, everything has changed. In the past, I could look at the sky and mostly know the weather - was it good enough to go fishing or not? But now, it is unpredictable, even for using fish cages,” he revealed.
“Is it climate change? I heard a lot about that but I’m not sure. We buy fresh water from the mountain area near our village, but there seems to be much less water than in the past,” he added.
Anuchart Sinthunava, shared that last year flooding happened in their town for the first time ever and their internal road was flooded during the dry season.
“It might be because of people,” said Mr. Pailin Olarnpaiboon, 46, Village Head of Ban Rong Mai.
The name Ban Rong Mai means House of Wood in Thai - but the mangrove forest it is named after was cut down to make way for shrimp ponds and fish cultivation 25 years ago.
Subject to overexploitation over time, the land has been degraded. Now, Ban Rong Mai’s residents have changed from modern shrimp cultivation techniques to traditional farming - while waiting patiently to allow the land to rest and recover.
By Phan Lệ Hằng and Phạm Hoàng Nam
Việt Nam News Agency
Note: this article is part of a writing and photography workshop held during the First Annual Forum on Building Resilience to Climate Change Impacts in Cambodia, Thailand and Viet Nam, on 28 February – 2 March 2012, Chanthaburi, Thailand.