Home to industrial estates and the victim of a recent oil spill, the polluted province of Rayong aims to become a Green City - again
When one thinks of Rayong, what are the images that spring to mind? Is it a picture of Sunthorn Phu the late renowned poet, the province's famous native or the outlandish image of petrochemical factories at Map Ta Phut belching fire and smoke?
For many, images of Rayong consist of the oil spill that turned the white sandy beaches of Koh Samet into an oil slick.
The province, located on the Eastern Seaboard, has sea, sand, seafood, fruits and industrial factories. Inland, it is a huge farm area where economic crops such as rubber, tapioca, pineapples, eucalyptus and rubber trees are grown. This combination has made Rayong the country's highest per capita income province. According to Rayong's Provincial Development Office, each person makes 1.2 million baht a year. Interestingly enough, the province does not have a university.
Yet, the province has been notorious for its pollution problems. Home to 19 industrial estates many of them heavy polluting petrochemical complexes such as the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate the province has encountered a range of social conflicts. Local communities have protested against factories over pollution and accidents. A few have even taken their cases to the court.
Farmland areas are progressively dwindling. Mangrove forests have been cleared for resorts and factories, resulting in the drop of aquatic animal populations.Fishermen have to travel 50-100km from the coastline in order to fill their nets. In the old days, they would catch fish within 3-5km from the beach. Data shows Rayong is an industrial city, with almost 50% of its income coming from petrochemicals and another 30% from other industries. Only 3.4% is from farming and 0.4% comes from fishery, according to information from the Rayong provincial administration.
But Rayong and the national strategic think-tank, the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB),have a long term vision and plan to make Rayong an environmentally sustainable city.
Rayong governor Wichit Chartpaisit said the plan for 2014-2017 focuses on improving the quality of life, creating a sustainableandenvironmentallyfriendly industry with good governance.
"Rayong is a unique place. The province has a diverse blend of tourism,industry and agriculture. The most interesting aspect is that these sectors can help check one another," said Wichit.
"But we also need to look at the growth and question whether or not it is sustainable and what is being lost along the way to development."
Though wealthy and blessed with natural resources, social resentment,mostly caused by industrial pollution and resource utilisation, has beset the province in the last decade.
For example, the water dispute between the farm and industrial sectors started in 2005 when water stored in major reservoirs was being diverted to factories. In 2007, villagers around Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate asked the National Environmental Board (NEB)to declare Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate a pollution controlled area. A few years later, the Administrative Court put a halt on the expansion of petrochemical plants in Map Ta Phut, resulting in an investment lost.
Turning Rayong into a green and sustainable city is a daunting task.
The Thailand Research Fund (TRF),started a series of studies on development in 2007. Among them are three research projects that look into major environmental problems that are affecting the livelihoods and income of locals.
The first is a water resource inventory database project and water management in Tahpong in Muang district. Second is organic farming development in the same district and the third is a communal fish nursery in Klang district, a fishing community.
The TRF is adamant that citizens of the province farmers, villagers and fishermen work with the projects as part of the research team and contribute to decisions and planning.
The TRF and academics are helping local researchers gather information and provide them with references and benchmarks for measuring the data and outcome, according to Supranee Jongdeepaisarl, program director of the TRF's Public Well-Being Division.
In the water management project,villagers were invited to help survey water resources in the area and found 3,000 small water resources. In 2005, Rayong had a major water shortage problem,when water in the reservoirs was being used up due to a high demand from factories. After the surveys, villagers and researchers, led by a team from Chulalongkorn University, mapped out a water resource plan and asked the provincial authority for a budget to buy additional land for making an extra reservoir and build a pipeline to improve water delivery.Without the project, the community will have to depend on water delivered by trucks.
In the same area, fruit growers are facing another problem: rising costs for chemical pesticides and fertilisers, which makes it harder to remain competitive.The project invited fruit growers to help researchers collect data on soil, plantation and costs. Orchard growers who joined the project soon switched to organic farming.
"With organic farming, I can reduce 50% of my costs and sell my product at a higher price. I do not have to worry about chemical pesticides or their rising prices," said Kitti Rachawat, a fruit grower from Natakwan in Muang district. Kitti now sells his longans to Siam Paragon Shopping Complex a high-end shopping mall in Bangkok.
Rayong's fishing industry has been in trouble long before last month's oil spill, which just added insult to injury.A dwindling mangrove forest has reduced the aquatic animal population, and so the project encourages fishermen to create seung , or fish nurseries, made by creating "houses" made of coconut branches for fish and other aquatic animals to spawn. The use of an artificial fish nursery in the sea was not considered innovative and a few structures provided by the authority already exist. However,the research requires fishermen and researchers to develop a plan to share resources and use artificial nurseries in a sustainable manner.
"What we learnt from these research projects is not just knowledge. We also get grassroots democracy from having local villagers participate in and run the project," said Supranee, hinting that grassroots democracy and public participation are essential for making Rayong a sustainable city.
"The project does not provide guidelines or solutions," she admitted."After all, the project shows that there is more than one way to describe a 'green'city. In this project, we let the people of Rayong determine what is green, and there can be more than one shade of green. Among those shades is the fair and efficient use of natural resources."
Developing a green city is not only the issue."This is a test for the entire country on whether or not Thailand can escape from what we called the 'Development Trap'."
That means the march towards industrialisation and progress leaves a trail of environmental damage and social resentment. More importantly, wealth from the industrial sector does not trickle down to the lower social strata.
Protesting locals have been on the rise in the province, and villagers in other provinces with industrial development projects such as Prachuap Khiri Khan, Satun and Nakhon Si Thammarat have also protested against industrial development for fear their hometown will face a similar pollution problem.
"If we cannot show society that Rayong can become environmentally-friendly,many development projects across Thailand will be grounded, too," said Supranee."If Rayong can become a sustainable city, it will be a model for the rest of the country."
"If we cannot show society that Rayong canbecome environmentallyfriendly, many development projects across Thailand will be grounded, too"
ที่มา : Bangkok Post ฉบับวันที่ 04 กันยายน พ.ศ. 2556 โดย ANCHALEE KONGRUT