Stop the flood arguing, solve this dam mess

Stop the flood arguing, solve this dam mess

Flood or drought. Dams overflowing or no water left in the dams. Nothing is scarier than seeing the country's water management heavyweights engaged in a war of words instead of working together.

It began with former Royal Irrigation Department chief Pramote Maiklad who commented last weekend that the Pheu Thai government was mismanaging water resources by draining excessive amounts of water from dams for fear of flooding. This could lead to one of the worst water shortage crises this coming dry season, he said.

The cause of the alleged mismanagement was because Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had put the wrong man in the wrong job, Mr Pramote said, referring to Science and Technology Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi, who chairs the Water and Flood Management Commission (WFMC). Mr Plodprasop, a former Fisheries Department chief, has no knowledge of water management and only knows how to manage the water in his fish pond, Mr Pramote was quoted as saying in a Thai daily.

The outspoken Mr Plodprasop quickly hit back: "Such criticism reflects the speaker's stupidity."

"A person who knew anything wouldn't talk about drought when we're in the rainy season," Mr Plodprasop said on Monday and suggested Mr Pramote also learn to show some respect for other people.

Then came another former Royal Irrigation Department chief Kijja Pholphasi.

Hours after Mr Plodprasop hit back at Mr Pramote, Mr Kijja got in on the act by calling on Ms Yingluck to remove Mr Plodprasop as WFMC chairman.

Mr Kijja said there are many officials at the Royal Irrigation Department and the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry who are much better at water management than him.

Mr Plodprasop, according to Mr Kijja, doesn't know how to deal with such a technical and complicated matter as water management.

Mr Kijja is a member of the Strategic Formulation Committee for Water Resources Management (SCWRM), an advisory panel of the National Water Resources and Flood Policy Committee (NWRFC) chaired by the prime minister. He added that he has decided to "fade away" from the SCWRM because "there's something fishy [inside the committee]."

Unfortunately, he would not say what those fishy things are.

This war of words between three such prominent figures has made me feel pretty hopeless.

It's the latest evidence showing that the country's water management work is in a real mess.

In this time of crisis when we have yet to fully recover from last year's floods and are facing another flood threat, with a possible drought in store, it's a desperate thing to see the government and experts become foes.

This is a highly inappropriate time for senior officials and experts to be verbally attacking each other in the public. It's time to put one's ego aside, work together, listen to each other, and come up with constructive criticism.

The public has been confused enough with the plethora of committees _ such as the NWRFC, SCWRM, WFMC, and ONWF _ set up by the government to work on water management. They also fear the 350 billion baht water management scheme will be open to massive corruption and that the water projects, to be implemented by foreign companies, will do more harm than good to our water resources.

Daily reports about floods in the North, drought in the South and Northeast, and a rapid decrease in water storage capacity in some major dams have brought even more worries. In this situation, what we want to see most is close cooperation, not squabbling, between government authorities and water management experts.

I remember when bird flu first struck the country in late 2003. Although the government was criticised for covering up the outbreak and handled the flare-up at the beginning poorly, the authorities and experts tried very hard to work together to contain the disease afterwards. As a reporter who covered the outbreak at the time, it was good to see government authorities and experts from various fields join hands to contain the disease. They had conflicts, they argued, but they still worked together to achieve the goal of stamping out bird flu and safeguarding Thailand's poultry exports.

Judging from the current situation, it's unlikely that such collaboration will take place among the state agencies and experts dealing with water management ...and it's time for us to prepare for the worst.


Kultida Samabuddhi is Deputy News Editor, Bangkok Post.

Kultida Samabuddhi

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