Public hearings contribute to draft law on water management

The draft law for facilitating Thailand’s integrated water management is being developed since January 2013; in partnership with the Law Reform Commission of Thailand, the NGO Assembly for the Protection of Environment and Natural Resources, the Asia Foundation, and IUCN through the Mekong Water Dialogues (MWD). The Drafting Committee is formulating a draft Integrated Water Management Law though public participatory process.

Public hearing on a draft of water law in Thailand

In Thailand, more than 20 different government bodies oversee the governance of water resources. They lack both unity and integration, while water demand for all sectors is increasing. The country is faced with major flood and drought problems as well as water pollution and the need for water to sustain the ecosystem.

Member of the subcommittee on development of water resources law, Mr Tawatchai Rattanasorn, Senior Programme Officer of IUCN Thailand comments, “None of the different government departments investigate water-sharing or integrated management of water resources. Water management in Thailand is sectoral, and there is a lack of public participation in the decision-making process. At the moment, water resources are state-owned. But water is a public asset and people need the assured right to access water.”

Water is a prerequisite for life. Therefore, diminished water resources will have enduring and wide-ranging social and environmental effects. These impacts have been magnified due to the increasing frequency of natural disasters in Thailand, such as floods and droughts. The importance of water has increasingly been recognised from an economic perspective, resulting in a diminished focus on the importance of water for a healthy ecosystem and the environment. This has led to an imbalance in approaches toward water management.

In this context, MWD’s chief objective is to improve the governance of water resources. In this particular instance, law has been acknowledged as an important mechanism to drive the management of water resources. The draft law acknowledges that people’s participation is essential in order to create more inclusive governance by directly responding to their needs.

The draft law on integrated management of Thailand’s water resources has been proposed by a subcommittee on development of water resources law of 14 persons; representing Thai government officials, water management experts, NGOs, and IUCN-MWD staff. This subcommittee has produced a draft law, based upon extensive research on the existent laws and bills on the subject. The process employs feedback received through public hearings. In order for this to effectively take place, regional public hearings have been organised nationwide since beginning of 2013. It aims to present the current draft to collect feedback, to understand the needs and concerns of communities, as well as to facilitate sharing experiences part of the public participatory process. The subcommittee on development of water resources law meets every month to incorporate those comments into the draft law.

The public hearings have already been held in the Northern, Southern, upper Central and Western regions of Thailand. The Eastern and North-Eastern provinces are to be covered in August this year.

The proposed Integrated Water Management Law will have ten salient components, enumerated below.

  1. The right to water resources: water should belong to everyone, and all should have access to water for living as long as it does not harm others.
  2. Requirement for an organisation/institution to manage water resources: there is a need for an institution to be in place at national and river basin level. There is also a requirement to form such an institution at sub-basin level and to integrate this with the local government.
  3. Water allocation: for all sectors, the government needs to make sure they have enough water for agriculture, industry, and small-scale farming practices.
  4. To prevent water-related crisis: a need for forming a special committee or task force in order to prevent water-based crisis situations.
  5. Development and conservation measures for water resources: the ecosystem for water resources needs to be protected and rehabilitated.
  6. Control and inspection of public water sources.
  7. Legal responsibility: punishing those who pollute the waters.
  8. A water resources fund: management of funding for water resources by a proposed National Water Resources Board.
  9. Criminal penalties for those who misuse water resources: for instance, for those who pump harmful effluents into the water.
  10. Annex: this will include what needs to be considered by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

The last public hearing will be held in Bangkok on 6 September. People from the different regions of Thailand will be invited to take part. Then the final draft of water resource law will be presented. Thereafter, 10,000 supporters will be required to sign the petition. The final draft of the law, together with the 10,000 signatures from those who support it, will formally be submitted to Parliament by the end of this year.

“The four public hearings held so far have provided key feedback for framing the law. We have good support from the Law Reform Commission of Thailand. We do hope the proposal will be accepted”, says Tawatchai Rattanasorn.

By Ria Sen, Communications Intern

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