Marking the World Wetlands Day 2013, IUCN's Mekong Water Dialogues, together with partners such as the Thailand Research Fund, the Thai Water Partnership and the Wieng Nong Lom community gathered to discuss the current situation and options for future protection of their wetland, traditions, culture and community life.
Located in Chiang Rai province of northern Thailand, Wieng Nong Lom is considered a Wetland of National Importance. It is an important wetland of the Mae Chan Watershed, which is contributing to the mainstream Mekong River.
"IUCN has come to work in this area for some time. It is important to take care of the whole river basin, not just some part of it. We are partnering with the community and a number of academic organisations on the use and conservation of wetlands", says Tawatchai Rattanasorn, Senior Programme Officer and Coordinator of IUCN's Mekong Water Dialogues in Thailand.
It has been over a year that a tool called Tai Baan Research has been introduced and implemented in many communities in Thailand. Its process invites high participation of the villagers to conduct research side by side with academia from preliminary project design, to analysis of research, implementation, and finding and proposing recommendations for change at different levels. Throughout the process, villagers learn more about their community, ecosystem and available natural resources. Once they realize the importance of these resources, they will be willing to preserve and protect them for themselves and future generations.
"Nine years ago, there were a lot of lotuses in Wieng Nong Lom wetland. They were very abundant. Not so long ago, I saw dramatic changes in this land. A private company came to buy a big plot of land to grow orange trees. They blocked the river flow and drew the water into their plantation. So the wetland was dried up. Although it seems to be impossible to dream for an abundant Wieng Nong Lom as it used to be in the past, I don't lose hope that one day and with our concerted efforts, this place will be better. We will not go anywhere. We will live here because this is our home land", says Boontham Chindatham, villager of Pa Sak Luang district in Mae Chan.
Years of research on Wieng Nong Lom confirm that over 3,200 hectares of this area represent a strong connection between the community's culture, history and natural resources, which play very important roles in the establishment of this community and its rich culture.
"Research poses interesting questions for the wetlands, which are so rich in biodiversity, such as what would be the best way to manage them within the consideration of cultural, historical and social context. The context of Wieng Nong Lom is very similar to Inle Lake in Myanmar. If possible, we should link these two areas together, and encourage experience sharing among people from these sites", says Dr Sin Sarobol, researcher of the Thailand Research Fund.
In fact, ninety per cent of this wetland ecosystem is still in a good condition. However, we have big concerns about inappropriate development projects and some agricultural practices that have been introduced to the area, such as road construction, paddy fields and fruit and rubber tree plantations.
"Wieng Nong Lom has all the qualifications to be a Ramsar site. We are considering following the decree to declare this area an Area of Importance. This will allow both people and the government to work together and jointly design a management plan. Besides, all obstacles to the flow of water in Wieng Nong Lom must be removed in order to keep the system alive. Lastly, it is important to create a better understanding about the areas among relevant stakeholders", says Hannarong Yaowalers, Chair of the Thai Water Partnership and Mekong Water Dialogues' working group member.
The flow at Wieng Nong Lom is closely linked to the Mekong river flow. Decades ago, when the water level in the Mekong was high, water would flow into this wetland. The water brought in many fish species including giant catfish. Although there is research about this Wieng Nong Lom wetland, if nobody takes this up and translates it into a practical action plan, it will not lead to any changes. Furthermore, wetland conservation won't work without the commitment from all stakeholders and strong political will.
By Dararat Weerapong