Chiang Rai Residents to Protest at Chinese Embassy


What with the million person demonstration to come in Bangkok this weekend and the theft of weapons from the army by …. well, we all have suspicions as to what is going on there … what with all this, we could do without an outbreak of anti-Chinese sentiment but the ongoing problems with the River Mekong may provoke just that. Today it is being reported that Chiang Rai residents are planning to demonstrate outside the Chinese Embassy, on the basis that it is the dams in China which are contributing to the low level of water and the floods over a couple of years.

According to the leader of the Chiang Khong Conservation Group, Niwat Roykaew, “”We can’t stand by idly on the issue … No one is telling China about the painful experience we are facing. As the prime victims, we will make our voice heard and take action to deal with the problem.”

The principal issue seems to be that people feel no one is acting on their behalf – which is a reasonable position to take given the nature of the current regime. It is certainly the case that the government (or at least its few grown-up members) is generally unwilling to upset the Chinese leadership for a wide range of reasons. Flap-mouthed buffoon Kasit Piromya might be persuaded to say something different, after all. This is exacerbated by the unwillingness of the Chinese government to participate in regional agencies to discuss the relevant issues.

This could all turn nasty. Let us hope for some leadership (presumably by someone actually elected by the people).

Tension with China Likely as Mekong at Lowest Level for 30 Years


As the Mekong runs to its lowest level in three decades, boat traffic has had to be suspended and, in common with other waterways in the region, people wonder how they are going to survive. There will be the economic cost of reduced trade (there is an estimate of 100 million baht so far) and also the threat to the approximately 50 million people who rely on the Mekong in one way or another.

There will also, it seems inevitable, be increased tension with China, since it is widely believed that it is damming of the Lancang (which is the term used in China for the Mekong – it means something like the ‘turbulent river’) upstream which is the principal contributory factor to low levels.

Water wars or at least skirmishes seem likely this year in many parts of the GMSR.

Mekong Runs Dry


Is this the future? The River Mekong running dry for much of the year, putting at risk the lives and livelihoods of the 50 million people who rely upon the river downstream –there are some fairly grim photos of this available now. One immediate effect of this has been the stranding of a number of cargo boats which have been going up and down the river to China as part of the Free Trade Agreement signed with that country – so, fruit is going off and other goods losing their value. Presumably the effects on farmers and so on will work their way down the river course. The cause at the moment is a drought – weather patterns are becoming more unpredictable and extreme – as well as the damming of the river in China and the blasting of rapids to permit the passage of larger vessels.

Will Isan Become Uninhabitable?


Research suggests that global climate change is already starting to have an impact in the northeastern Isan region. In particular, the ‘Plain of Crying Nomads’ (that will be Thung Kula Ronghai, which covers Roi Et, Maha Sarakam, Surin, Sisaket and Yasothon) has been witnessing 45% reductions in rice yield, as well as additional droughts and floods. Many of the farmers involved have only low levels of education, of course and, having never heard of climate change, are seeking explanations from the world of the supernatural.

It is all too tempting to attribute any change in weather conditions to climate change without considering what other factors might be contributing – in the case of Isan, the deforestation of the region has intensified the cycle of drought and flooding, since the roots of the trees are no longer available to hold the water in the soil and the trees cannot hold up the flooding. However, the research (which I have not seen apart from this newspaper report) seems to have taken these effects into account and identified a quantitative change in conditions.

The intensification of weather conditions seems to be overwhelming the ability of the local people to cope, using the time-honoured customs that form the basis of folk wisdom. Even under previous conditions, many farmers have been crippled by systemic indebtedness owing to the seasonal nature of their economic activities and the inequities of the capitalist system in which they live. Rural poverty and suicide is a common enough phenomenon and will become worse, presumably, especially if the halt in the worsening conditions through policies of redistribution brought about by the 2001-6 governments are not properly sustained. It is possible that, if suitable steps are not taken now, that much of the Isan region will become uninhabitable within 30-50 years, depending on when the Himalayan glaciers finish melting and the Mekong dries up forever. Fifty million people rely upon the river in one way or another: it will be a human disaster of incredible proportions if the glaciers are permitted to disappear in the way that seems almost inevitable.

HM the Queen’s 76th Birthday


Today is August 12th and in Thailand that means the birthday of Her Majesty the Queen. The day also serves as Mother’s Day and it is a Public Holiday. Throughout the Kingdom, areas have been set aside for portraits to be put up and visitors’ books placed for people to record their good wishes to HM on her 76th birthday.

In a speech last night, HM spoke about environmental problems in Thailand in particular, focusing on the lack of water resources, fewer fish in the river and the need to preserve the remaining forests. The damage has been done to the environment of a period of decades – since economic modernization began in the 1950s really when improved technology enabled people to harvest the trees at a much higher rate. So much of the forestland has gone now that there is a greatly reduced ability for the land to retain water when it passes through – the result has been increased flooding.

It seems that every year, when the floods come, there are farmers who have lost everything and then feel themselves forced to resort to suicide – and not just that but they will kill their wives and children first. It is a very terrible phenomenon and a reminder of how narrow the margin is between survival and misery for the many subsistence farmers that populate the country.

Thailand, in common with all the countries of mainland Southeast Asia, is watered by a series of north-south flowing rivers with their origins in the Himalayas. They include the Mekong, Chao Phraya, Irrawaddy, Salween and Hong (Red) Rivers. The frozen ice on the mountains regulates the flows of the rivers and enables 50 million people to rely in whole or in part on the River Mekong for protein or income. Reports from scientists suggest that the ice in the mountains is melting at a rapid rate – some suggest it will all have disappeared within thirty years. If that happens, there will be alternate floods and droughts and millions will be at risk of starvation. Action is really needed now.

HM the Queen’s 76th Birthday


Today is August 12th and in Thailand that means the birthday of Her Majesty the Queen. The day also serves as Mother’s Day and it is a Public Holiday. Throughout the Kingdom, areas have been set aside for portraits to be put up and visitors’ books placed for people to record their good wishes to HM on her 76th birthday.

In a speech last night, HM spoke about environmental problems in Thailand in particular, focusing on the lack of water resources, fewer fish in the river and the need to preserve the remaining forests. The damage has been done to the environment of a period of decades – since economic modernization began in the 1950s really when improved technology enabled people to harvest the trees at a much higher rate. So much of the forestland has gone now that there is a greatly reduced ability for the land to retain water when it passes through – the result has been increased flooding.

It seems that every year, when the floods come, there are farmers who have lost everything and then feel themselves forced to resort to suicide – and not just that but they will kill their wives and children first. It is a very terrible phenomenon and a reminder of how narrow the margin is between survival and misery for the many subsistence farmers that populate the country.

Thailand, in common with all the countries of mainland Southeast Asia, is watered by a series of north-south flowing rivers with their origins in the Himalayas. They include the Mekong, Chao Phraya, Irrawaddy, Salween and Hong (Red) Rivers. The frozen ice on the mountains regulates the flows of the rivers and enables 50 million people to rely in whole or in part on the River Mekong for protein or income. Reports from scientists suggest that the ice in the mountains is melting at a rapid rate – some suggest it will all have disappeared within thirty years. If that happens, there will be alternate floods and droughts and millions will be at risk of starvation. Action is really needed now.