Victory for determination

Victory for determination

A fierce fight to protect a pristine beach from a state-built seawall by villagers of tambon Muang Ngam in Songkhla's Singha Nakhon district has finally paid off.

The Administrative Court in Songkhla has issued an injunction ordering the Public Works and Town Planning Department under the Interior Ministry to suspend construction of the 710-metre seawall. It said the structure, when completed, would intensify beach erosion, rather than protecting it and that meant the project, worth 80 million baht, would be a waste of taxpayers' money.

The court ruled that the project was incongruous and of no benefit.

Villagers told the authorities that a more traditional method, using sandbags to protect the land at high tide in rough seas, would be an ideal option as it was cheaper and more efficient. When the sea was calm, the villagers said they could simple remove the bags without any major work needed on the beach structure. They said they had learned from the failure of similar projects both in their province and others.

They sought help from the court because they said the department had refused to listen to their concerns. Their petition was initially based on a lack of public consultation.

Seawalls have become a problem for several areas because of a misguided state policy. In 2019, the National Environment Policy and Planning Office removed seawalls from a list of projects that required Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) studies. Environmental checklists still have to be completed before construction can start but that is widely thought to be insufficient.

This latest court ruling may benefit other communities at odds with state agencies over development projects that will ruin the ecology and their livelihoods. However, the villagers had to fight hard to get their way -- they risked violating state orders to stay at home in accordance with the emergency decree initiated by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) and the National Security Council. At one time, police and security officers dispersed them as they held demonstrations at the beach. Such a heavy-handed response only served to fuel their anger so they switched to mounting an online petition to avoid further confrontation.

The Muang Ngam community's success can be attributed to the united efforts of villagers, local leaders and educational institutions that helped provide data and study results on erosion and seawalls in other areas.

In issuing the injunction, the court gave weight to findings by the Office of Auditor General in 2011, which located a number of shortcomings in seawalls.

The findings came from an inspection of 70 projects in 18 coastal provinces. The court found that 60 were substandard and were responsible for environmental problems.

Unfortunately, the office fell short of saying exactly who was responsible for the failed projects or if anyone would be held responsible financially.

At the same time, the National Marine and Coastal Resource Management Committee has decided to toughen measures regarding seawall and shoreline stabilisation. The panel, chaired by Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, recently announced that 3,148 kilometres of coastline in Thailand would be a "coastal erosion protection zone" and seawall constructions would be forbidden unless developers followed environmental checklists. That, too, is a move in the right direction.


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