Thailand: Helping build more resilient communities

Jun 15, 2012

BANGKOK – A new United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) documentary released today demonstrates how a unique approach to community security and social cohesion led to more resilient communities in Northern Thailand.

The film documents the work of a UNDP project in Mae Hong Son, Thailand’s poorest province, with the country’s lowest score on UNDP's Human Development Index. It is home to diverse population, including a large number of displaced people from Myanmar. Economic opportunities can be scarce and access to natural resources and basic services are often inadequate.
Conditions in the province gave rise to social tensions between the local population and the provincial government, and resentment towards the displaced people receiving support from the international community in nearby temporary shelters. Isolated rural villages make their livelihoods from Mae Hong Son’s thick forests and through traditional farming.  Community natural resource needs and the government’s aim to protect the remaining forest in Thailand seemed at odds. 

However, through an innovative approach developed by UNDP’s Bureau of Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR), the relationship between communities and the provincial government improved, as well as better social service delivery, natural resource management and livelihood enhancement.

Farming villages like Huai Fan border a government forest reserve. Without adequate land for cultivation, villagers grew upland rice for household consumption and gathered forest products like leaves and chillies to sell to outsiders and people who live in the nearby Mae Surin refugee camp. Tensions rose between the village and the government over the continued exploitation of the neighbouring forest.

 “Currently the government suggests we do not encroach on the forest. Today the population is increasing. We have to encroach on the forest,” said Mr. Vinai Sornjaroenchai, a local farmer.

Using two tools, a participatory rural appraisal (PRA), and a 3D mapping model (P3DM) UNDP, the provincial government and villagers identified a number of issues together, including inadequate water for agriculture, the lack of skills for preserving natural resources, and the extinction of banana from the village forest areas.

The inclusive process led stakeholders to confront a much bigger issue—forest fires. The deterioration of natural resources could become an increasingly significant problem for the province, and the local village headman suggested wildfire control as a starting point for conservation of natural resources and as a way of preventing drought.

But Huai Fan knew they could not tackle this problem alone.

UNDP worked with a local NGO to lead a series of wildfire and flash flood prevention forums to improve awareness in the general public, as well as among provincial and local government officers. Huai Fan and other villages teamed together to identify of problems and solutions for community natural resource management.  Provincial government got involved, as did a local government radio station.  The result was two-fold. The local communities did not have good relations with local government forestry officials, whom they believed were out to “fence or fine” them.  The second result was the creation of the Namtok Mae Surin Wildfire Prevention Network, a group of eight rural communities.

The wildfire prevention networks established an effective fire prevention system through regulations on burning, fire break preparation, and established a patrol team with forestry staff to spot wildfires and prevent illegal logging. The network paved the way for more collaboration in areas like water resource development with other public organizations.

The project was significant to Mae Hong Son, as it emphasized the use of a wide range of actors to identify the root causes of insecurity and develop coordinated community response.  It places emphasis on participatory assessments, planning and accountability to improve service delivery, reduce social exclusion, and enhance relations between parties.

“When UNDP discussed [this approach] with us—as a government agency—we saw that we could put them to good use in areas that would be a good example for the future,” said Mr. Tongchai Wongrienthong, former Governor of Mae Hong Son province.

“We talked about how it would help the livelihoods of the people of Mae Hong Son…and it would help conserve natural resources and the environment.”

Although isolation is still a challenge, relationships have improved.

“In days past, the villagers and the government basically couldn’t get along. That’s the honest truth. The villagers wanted to encroach on the forest, but were prohibited,” said Mr, Sornjaroenchai. 

The UNDP-BCPR approach brings together a wide range of actors to identify the causes of insecurity and develop coordinated responses at the community level, and an enabling environment at the national level. It emphasizes participatory assessments, planning and accountability and seeks to improve service delivery, reduce social exclusion, enhance relations between social groups, and strengthen democratic governance.

The film, “Building Social Cohesion: The Case of Mae Hong Son,” highlights UNDP-BCPR’s core principles and how they were effectively employed in the Mae Hong Son context.

For further information, please contact:

Mark S. Cogan, Communications and Media Officer, UNDP Thailand, office: 0 2304 9100, Ext. 1887, cell: 087 972 7435;

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