Preserving Wetlands in Thailand – One Woman’s Mission

Rujirek Plubchang, the founder of a Thai environmental community group focused on cleaning up local waterways. Photo: UNDP/Leah Oatway
Rujirek Plubchang, the founder of a Thai environmental community group focused on cleaning up local waterways. Photo: UNDP/Leah Oatway

When water pollution threatened to destroy the wetlands and orchards in Bang Kra-sorb, Thailand, where Rujirek Plubchang and her ancestors have lived for more than a hundred years, the mother-of-two took decisive action – keen to preserve their beauty and bounty for her children and generations to come.

Highlights

  • Rujirek and her group established a modest learning centre from which to educate the wider community about good waste management practice.
  • Having successfully rejuvenated the water system, it is once again a rich feeding source for fruit orchards.
  • The project’s success influenced local public policy, with both the community and local authority interested in ensuring all households implement waste systems.

“The area was starting to erode because as the village expanded so had the amount of household waste in the water,” she explained. “If I didn’t do anything then my children would never have the chance to see these things.”

For eight years, since establishing Lamphoo-Bang Krasorb Environmental Conservation Group in 2006 with the support of the Royal Forestry Department, which owns the land, Rujirek has been educating the community about good waste management practice.

In 2012, the Group was given a boost with a grant of US$20,000 provided by UNDP in Thailand and the Metropolitan Water Works Authority. The funds allowed Rujirek to install a simple three-barrel system through which household waste - such as fats and oils – can be separated from, or safely broken down in, waste water before being safely drained into natural water supplies. 

After a year, the system was provided to 55 households, plus a school and temple, and the results have been remarkable.

Today, the once-dying ecosystem in the sub-district is now thriving. The area has seen a resurgence in the firefly population. “Good water quality is essential to the survival of fireflies,” said UNDP Thailand project officer Sutharin Koonphol. “So if you have fireflies somewhere you know that biodiversity is good and the water quality is high, and we have fireflies here. Plus, firefly spotting is a popular ecotourism activity, creating income for the group and communities.”

The project’s success has attracted wider interest – plans are now afoot to expand the programme into at least four other sub-districts, one of which includes a hospital.

“This small grants project is an example of the remarkable impact cleaning up just one small local water system can have on the wider community”, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said of the project. “Its success also enables us to think of how what has been learned here might be applied to initiatives on a much greater scale to improve water quality and the urban living environment around Bangkok’s canals.”