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Phuket’s water supply running on empty

Thaiger

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Phuket’s water supply running on empty | Thaiger

On a tropical island where we’re surrounded by water, and with plenty of monsoonal rain falling on the island every year, it’s hard to imagine we could possibly be facing a water shortage. Especially after the crisis in March and April this year. But here we are.

In a ‘would-have-been-funny-if-it-wasn’t-true’ moment in April, the Phuket Water Authority announced water restrictions for the island one day (an odds and evens water usage schedule), only to reverse their decision the day after.

The water restrictions would have been draconian but, in hindsight, a responsible response to the problem. The reversal of the decision, and the lack of explanation, was a high water mark (pardon the pun) of local bureaucracy gone completely insane.

So, here we are, more hotel rooms available than ever, more developments completed and an island poised for, hopefully, an influx of tourists for the busiest time of the year. But we will start the high season with the lowest volume of water ever, when measured against the total expected demand.

Unless it randomly just starts raining every day, for a few months, the island will not be able to rely on our dams supplying us with water for the high season.

Last week an order from the National Office National Water Resources was directed at Phuket’s water tzars to take urgent action to fix the island’s water-supply saga.

But the angry finger waving from the capital comes half a year too late when the critical problem facing Phuket for the 2019/2020 high season had already been well recognised, and admitted, by officials from the Phuket Water Authority. Their hope that this wet-season rain would fill the empty dams has fallen short of expectations. In fact the island faces up to six months, probably a lot longer, of critical water shortages, until the 2020 wet season presumably arrives.

Phuket's water supply running on empty | News by Thaiger

Bang Wad Dam in Kathu, less than 30% capacity

When Phuket’s residents take to social media about their water supply being turned off, just switched off without any warning – that’s what happened in March and April this year – the blame will land firmly in the lap of the PWA.

When the local media is approached to stop ‘running down the island’ with stories about empty dams and expensive emergency supplies, we will direct them towards the PWA.

When local businesses and hotels have to order daily water deliveries at extortionate prices, send the bill to the PWA. But good luck with that!

The last minute directive to ‘sort things out’ is too little and too late. The local authorities’ understanding of the looming problem is well documented, in their own words, from earlier this year. It’s just that they’ve done nothing about it.

As the wet season winds down for 2019, the Office of National Water Resoures says that Bang Wad dam in Kathu, the island’s largest reservoir and supplier to Patong, is not even 30% full. Bang Neow Dam, servicing areas north of Heroines Monument, is visibly almost dry with an official level of 8.38% of capacity, 5% of which is unusable.

(Strangely, the new Blue Tree water park was able to fill up over the wet season this year, but not the nearby Bang Neow Dam)

All this happened under Phuket Governor Phakaphong Tavipatana’s watch. So far he’s left the water problem in the hands of the local water authority. But now the Office National Water Resources says that Governor Phakaphong will be held responsible for overseeing remedial plans so that Phuket residents and businesses don’t have to suffer prolonged months of critical water shortages.

Precisely what they could do, at this stage, hasn’t been explained. But expect more finger pointing and probably a few resignations. But little more.

The bottomline is that the local government will have to ship in water from north of the island. There is no time left for anything else. It’s too late to build more dams, or enlarge the ones we have. It’s too late to light incense and pray for rain. It’s too late to plan, budget for and build new water supply infrastructure.

At the height of the crisis earlier this year the Army was brought in to help with the delivery of water to some of the worst affected communities – the sort of thing you’d expect in a third-world country after a decade of drought.

But this is Phuket, Thailand’s shining beacon of tourism, the Pearl of the Andaman. Whilst bleating about the lack of tourists, and still unable to admit responsibility for last year’s sinking of the Phoenix (killing 47 Chinese tourists), Phuket’s nominated officials have botched the most basic of infrastructure – a supply of water.

At the height of the crisis back in March and April this year the Governor never acknowledged the complexity or severity of the problem and, as far as we can see, has done SFA about a ‘plan’ when the dams run dry.

If the odds/evens water restrictions had been rolled out in, say, February this year, there would have been an outcry of over-stepping the mark and imposing draconian measures. In hindsight it would have been a responsible action and we’d be in a much better situation now. The water restrictions should have then been followed by urgent consultation and planning to avoid a tropical island ever having to suffer the embarrassment of turning off the water supply to its residents ever again.

Call it climate change or just a really bad wet season, the heavy rain simply hasn’t arrived this year to raise the levels of the island’s dams. Anything that falls in the next few weeks will be a bonus but with the winds already swinging around to the north and east a few weeks ago, the monsoon has already run out of steam.

The joke over recent years was that, if you wanted to start a booming business in Phuket, open a 7Eleven and put a bus stop out the front (for the Chinese tour buses). Our recommendation is, now, to buy some water trucks and start shipping in water. Because the island IS going to need it – our current reserves will not last through the high season.

The Thaiger was cheeky enough to ask for a list of all the private owners of water trucks on the island. We admit our request was just a thinly-veiled allegation.

An answer has not yet been forthcoming.

Phuket's water supply running on empty | News by Thaiger

Phuket's water supply running on empty | News by Thaiger

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Environment

Environmentalists criticise Netflix fishing doco for inaccuracies and misinformation

Maya Taylor

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Environmentalists criticise Netflix fishing doco for inaccuracies and misinformation | Thaiger
PHOTO: Alex Berger / Flickr

As Thailand accuses a Netflix documentary of using outdated and inaccurate information about the country’s fishing industry, a number of global environmental experts are echoing similar criticisms. According to a report in Coconuts, Seaspiracy has been slammed for being full of inaccuracies and twisting the science behind the damage to the world’s oceans, minimising the role of climate change and plastic pollution.

Brian Kahn, a journalist with an MA in Climate and Society, has written a piece called, Don’t Watch Netflix’s Seaspiracy, in which he also accuses the documentary of resorting to racial stereotypes.

“The bad guys are Asians, specifically Japanese whale and dolphin hunters and Chinese consumers of shark fin soup. The good guys – in this case, the experts he cites – are mostly white.”

According to the Coconuts report, the Marine Stewardship Council in London agrees the documentary contains “several inaccuracies” and the Plastic Pollution Coalition says the makers have “cherry-picked” quotes that will fit with their narrative. Marine biology magazine, Hakai, has also weighed in on the matter.

“Though the film misleads viewers with oversimplified science, its real harm is that it ignores the history, culture, and systemic inequities that are entwined with ocean conservation.”

Seaspiracy had its global release last month and has become one of the top 10 most-watched offerings on the Netflix streaming service. Opinion is divided, with many praising British filmmaker Ali Tabrizi for highlighting the issues with the global fishing industry, while others have slammed it for being biased and scientifically inaccurate.

The Royal Thai Navy has also criticised its portrayal of the country’s fishing industry, claiming it’s based on outdated information. In 2015, reporter Thapanee Eadsrichai exposed the significant role human trafficking and slavery played in the industry. This led to a crackdown of sorts, although slavery is still suspected of playing a role, on a smaller scale. The EU then threatened to ban all Thai seafood when the Kingdom’s illegal fishing practices came to light, but backed down when Thailand took steps to rectify the situation.

SOURCE: Coconuts

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Thailand

Report attributes 32,000 premature deaths in Thailand to air pollution

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Report attributes 32,000 premature deaths in Thailand to air pollution | Thaiger
Stock photo via Wikimedia Commons

According to the State of Global Air 2020 Report, around 32,000 premature deaths in Thailand, back in 2019, have been attributed to air pollution. The report cites the PM2.5 pollution particles as the main culprit as particles in that size range are the most likely to travel deeply into the respiratory tract, reaching the lungs.

Exposure to these fine particles can cause short-term health effects, such as eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, coughing, sneezing, runny nose and shortness of breath. But the long-term effects of being exposed to the particles is much more sinister.

Long-term exposure to PM2.5 pollution particles can affect lung function and worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease. Scientific studies have linked increases in daily PM2.5 exposure with increased respiratory and cardiovascular hospital admissions, emergency department visits and deaths.

Studies also suggest that long-term exposure to fine particulate matter may be associated with increased rates of chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function and increased mortality from lung cancer and heart disease. People with breathing and heart problems, children and the elderly may be more sensitive to PM2.5 particles.

In Thailand, it’s burning season in the north as farmland and forests blaze with abundance (the annual burning season usually lasts from January to April, before the wet season kicks in). Despite increasing cautions against air pollution affecting short and long-term health of residents, the fires don’t show signs of stopping. The government has even issued a no burning ban, but enforcing the ban has proved to be fruitless as such provinces in northern Thailand consist of vast forest lands.

The government helicopter team can only do so much as they set out to locate hotspots and attempt to extinguish them by dropping buckets of water. But crop burning appears to be the cheapest and fastest way to help farmers clear their lands for a new growing season.

Recently, Thailand’s northern province of Chiang Mai has ranked the 3rd most polluted city in the world, according to AirVisual, which gives live updates of rankings. Today, Chiang Mai doesn’t appear in the list of the top 10 most air-polluted cities in the world, according to iqair.com

SOURCE: Sky News/Health.ny.gov

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Environment

TAT says Phuket beaches have been “revitalised” during the pandemic

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TAT says Phuket beaches have been “revitalised” during the pandemic | Thaiger
Stock photo via Flickr

Phuket’s beaches are perhaps one of the only silver linings from the Covid pandemic, with marine life visibly rebounding after a long break from tourism, at least that’s what the Tourism Authority of Thailand says. The tourism officials say the huge reduction in tourist traffic has contributed to the Andaman Sea and coastlines becoming clearer than it has been in a long time, with local reservoirs teeming with fresh water.

But tourism officials didn’t mention the recent sea urchin phenomenon where hundreds of the red spiky sea creatures washed up on Patong Beach. A marine life expert in Phuket says wastewater being dumped in the Andaman Sea led to an algae bloom near the shoreline. Sea urchins moved to feast on the algae, but ended up getting stranded on the beach due to the tides. He says the sea urchins need to be in the ocean because they filter the water and serve as “cleaner of the sea.”

The Tourism Authority of Thailand recently released a statement, hyping up the Phuket beaches and saying the beaches have been “revitalised,” just as the island province prepares to reopen in July to vaccinated visitors.

They say Kamala Beach is still a popular destination, with a family-friendly atmosphere that offers tranquility along with snorkelling and swimming. Surin and Bangtao beaches are quieter than usual but still remain an excellent choice for those tourists who wish to partake in the nightlife and clubbing scene, according to TAT.

Mai Khao, Nai Yang, Nai Thon, and Sai Kaeo beaches, in northern Phuket, are visibly rejuvenated areas to visit as well. The 4 beaches are part of Sirinat National Park, where Olive Ridley sea turtles and Leatherneck turtles have returned during the pandemic to lay eggs. The Olive Ridley turtles were seen laying eggs on Mai Khao Beach after 20 years of no activity. The Leatherneck turtles also returned to lay eggs after 10 years of being absent.

The process to compromise between tourism and nature, started a few years ago with the beaches only allowing 10% to be consumed by vendors, umbrellas, and beach chairs. The southern beaches of Kata, Nai Han, and Kata Noi have also benefitted from the 10% vendor zone rule, as all seem to be returning to their original, pristine conditions they displayed a decade ago.

SOURCE: TAT News| Phuket News

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