Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Prevent the next flooding of Bangkok: Move people out of forests?

It sounds very special, what you could read in The Nation: Forestry experts and environmental activists called on the government to move people out of mountainous areas of Thailand, to protect forests and prevent floods.

The proposition was made at a seminar titled "Headwater Forest Strategy and the Way to Prevent Flood and Drought" organised by the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department. About 350 people took part, including forestry officials, forestry experts, environmental activists and members of civic groups.

A study conducted by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry found that massive deforestation caused by commercial farming in mountainous areas (500-1,500 metres above sea level) was one of the major causes of last year's severe flooding. More than 3.7 million rai of headwater forest in six river basins including the Ping, Wang, Yom and Nan were severely damaged by commercial farming (maize and rice). "We need to reduce the population in the mountainous areas and control land use. Moving people from mountainous areas to lower-lying areas would be a good way to protect headwater forests," said Wattana Wachirodom, an official from the Forest and Water Crisis Management Network.

The government may not follow. Natural Resources and Environment Ministry permanent secretary Chote Trachoo said he disagreed: "Relocating millions of people out of mountainous areas would be a very, very big issue," he said. Instead Chote Trachoo said, the government will pay people living in mountainous areas to plant trees and protect forests.

This created a lively debate on thaivisa.com. "I think that the worst damage is being done by a few very wealthy people who are engaged in illegal logging and massive deforestation and who do not even live close to the forest environment", points out one member. Another arguments, that thirty percent for the money for planting trees will go to the paymaster.

In the same time, during March, northern provinces as Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai or Mae Hong Son were hardly hit by air pollution from burnings again. People were wearing masks, visibility on streets was low, as The Nation noted. See video on youtube by guzzlalex. And tourism was hit, as guesthouse-owner Buddy Maupin described in Bangkok Post. Researchers say, this haze comes especially from the cultivation of corn crops. Research data and field examinations by the Chiang Mai office of the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry show, that the hotspots are areas cleared by burning in the dry season for growing of the same crop every year. "If we allow the practice to continue I'm afraid that within the next 10 years we will lose almost all our forests", said Bunpot Kantasen, chief of the local office, according to Bangkok Post. Officials believe mono-cropping has been encouraged by the government's ethanol use policy which has resulted in higher price for crops such as corn.

So, what should be done?

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