|Chiang Khan municipality conducted a brainstorming session last year to come up with ideas on how to save the town from the negative effects of development. Seen at far right is Kamol Kongpin, the town’s mayor.|
Chiang Khan district in Loei province is the first local municipality to embrace climate-change issues and incorporate them into a sustainable development plan drawn up with assistance from the Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI) and the Southeast Asia Start Regional Centre (START) based at Chulalongkorn University.
Still in draft form, the plan recommends how municipal executives can adjust people's lifestyles and business activities in the face of climate change, its effect on tourism, farming and fishing, as well as man-made environmental problems such as that resulting from changes in the flow of water in the Mekong River, a source of great concern to the local population.
The plan was drawn up last October following a brainstorming session attended by people living in the area, academics, experts, representatives of the local private and public sectors and representatives of the media. Leading ad agency and marketing strategist TBWA is helping with the plan on a pro-bono basis.
Unlike other development plans that are based on economic growth and GDP, the Chiang Khan draft revolves around climate change and inconsistent water levels in the Mekong - the key determinants when drawing up any future strategies. The SEI hopes to submit the final draft to the Chiang Khan municipality later this year.
START director Anond Snidvongse emphasised the importance of plans like this, pointing out that they have a significant bearing on tourism and that it would be unthinkable to draw them up without taking climate and environmental factors into account.
Rising temperatures would detract from Chiang Khan's main selling point as a destination, Anond noted, since most tourists go there to experience its cool weather. START research shows that the temperature in Chiang Khan over the next three decades will rise by 1C, a relatively small increase yet enough to disrupt farming patterns.
Yet, the real threat is not climate warming or culturally insensitive outsiders, but receding water levels in the Mekong, said Kamol Kongpin, mayor of Chiang Khan town.
A change has been evident over the past few years since China, which is currently building four dams upstream, started blocking the flow of the river. The Mekong's flow patterns are now more unpredictable, occasionally marked by strong tides which erode its banks.
And the situation is likely to get worse.
"When the dams are operational, flow of water in the river will no longer be controlled by nature but by the electricity that needs to be generated," warned Anond.
Compounding the plight of Loei villagers is the government's decision last year to build a new dam, Pak Chom, 50km downstream from Chiang Khan, which will lead to inundation of outlying areas, relocation of villagers and also affect the breeding and spawning habits of fish.
That said, Laos, too, plans to build a pair of dams - Pak Lai and Chaiya Buri - about 200km upstream from Chiang Khan, while China has plans to erect eight more higher up across both the Mekong and its tributaries.
No wonder Mayor Kamol is feeling so helpless. Town planning, managing waste, preserving cultural values and fighting off unscrupulous investors is one thing, but how does one exercise control over something this big that is well beyond his reach and means.
What plan could possibly deal with dams so enormous that they can determine the flow of water in a river as mighty as the Mekong? What does the future hold for this lovely, tranquil town? Two questions to which its hard-working mayor urgently wants answers.
"If all the dams are built, as planned, the Mekong will run dry and all that will remain is its name," he said, pensively.
"And if that happens, the damage won't be confined to Chiang Khan alone."
Please also see this article from The Bangkok Post Website.
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