The city of Udon Thani in Thailand’s north-eastern province of the same name, played host to climate change practitioners and stakeholder groups from the cities of Hat Yai and Chang Rai. The three-day exchange, facilitated by the Thailand Environment Institute (TEI), was organized to help share knowledge about the climate challenges that were being faced by the cities and learning about how to increase resilience.
In fast-growing Udon Thani, water management is a major issue. Population growth and increased industrial demand is putting considerable pressure on supply; especially during the long dry season.
One of the measures used to increase the city’s reserves has been to establish treatment facilities to recycle waste water. It is a method that has already been employed successfully in the city of Hat Yai. To learn more I spoke with Dr Phruck Pattano, Deputy Mayor of Hat Yai, while standing on the edge of one of the vast water-treatment lakes.
Question: The Wastewater Management Authority here in Udon Thani see these lakes as an important step in helping to secure water supplies to the city. Are the challenges that they face here similar to those in Hat Yai?
Dr Phruck: “The population of Hat Yai has also seen a lot of growth, like here in Udon Thani. This means that water supply has to increase and factories also use a lot of water. It has been useful talking with the Wastewater Management Authority. They have spoken about the high cost of treatment, both of the infrastructure and of running costs; electricity. The challenge is to find and agree ways of covering those costs in the long term.”
Q: What are needed to overcome the barriers?
Dr Phruck: “Infrastructure is one thing that is needed, but it is easier to plan than other challenges. Really what is needed, and we have heard this today too, is co-operation across municipal boarders.”
Q: Is this something that you can relate to from your experience in Hat Yai?
Dr Phruck: “Yes Hat Yai has shared the same challenges. We have ten times the capacity of this plant here in Udon Thani, and we need to raise 400,000 Baht (around 12,000 USD) per month to cover the running costs. Generating a revenue stream has been a big challenge. To begin to charge people for water when they have been used to getting it for free is difficult. In Hat Yai we have had to educate people about the importance of water treatment and investment, by working with communities we have been able to grow our revenue stream and can now cover the costs.”
Q: How important are exchange visits to other cities in Thailand, like this one?
Dr Phruck: “Yes they are important. We are all learning from each other. Our cities are growing quickly and there are many big challenges, we have to learn and share the best ways of doing things if we will keep up with the growth.”
Q: How will climate change affect Hat Yai and other cities like it?
Dr Phruck: “Climate change can make things more difficult. We already have challenges with water: the amounts of water for drinking and for industry. But there are many challenges. Climate change will add more to these and will make it more difficult to solve them. We are trying to act now to prepare in the best way.”