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Thailand is part of:
Asia & Pacific · Southeastern Asia ·
Water Basins of Thailand:
Golok · Mekong · Pakchan · Salween ·
Facts & Figures edit
Capital Bangkok
Neighbouring Countries Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar
Total Area 514,000 km2
  - Water 2,230 km2 (0.43%) / 43 m2/ha
  - Land 511,770 km2
Coastline 3,219 km
Population 64,232,760 (125 inhab./km2)
HDIA 0.781 (2007)
Gini CoefficientA n/a (1995)
Nominal GDPB $272,100 million
GDP (PPP) Per CapitaB $8,700
Land UseC
  - Cultivated Land 176,407 km2 (34.47%)
     - Arable 140,941 km2 (27.54%)
     - Permanent Crops 35,466 km2 (6.93%)
     - Irrigated 49,860 km2
  - Non cultivated 335,363 km2 (65.53%)
Average Annual RainfallD 1622 mm
Renewable Water ResourcesE 409.9 km3
Water WithdrawalsF 87.06 km3/yr
  - For Agricultural Use 95%
  - For Domestic Use 2%
  - For Industrial Use 2%
  - Per Capita 1,417 m3
Population with safe access to
  - Improved Water Source 99%
     - Urban population 98%
     - Rural population 100%
  - Improved Sanitation 99%
     - Urban population 98%
     - Rural population 99%
References & Remarks
A UNDP Human Development Report
B CIA World Factbook and Wikipedia
C CIA World Factbook Country Profiles
D Aquastat - FAO's Information System on Water and Agriculture
E CIA World Factbook
F Earthtrends

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Country Profile: Climate, Geography, Socio-Economic Context

Country Profile: Water Bodies and Resources

Thailand’s freshwater resources include several large rivers and lakes. The Ping, Wang, Yom, and Nan rivers originate in the northern mountains and form the Chao Phrayn River, which crosses the Central plain and empties into the Gulf of Thailand. The Chao Phrayn provides the country’s rice paddies with a critical source of irrigation water. The country’s border with Laos is formed by the Mekong River; about 18% of the river’s catchment area is within Thailand. The Salawin River runs along the northwestern boarder with Burma (Myanmar) and the Kolok River forms the southern border with Malaysia. The largest lake, Songkhla, covers 1040 square kilometers in the southern Malay Peninsula.

Thailand’s average annual rainfall is estimated at 1500 millimeters, ranging from 1100 millimeters in the Central plain to 4000 millimeters in the South. Drought and flooding are common in the Northeast and Central Regions. The country’s total renewable water resources are estimated at 410 cubic kilometers per year (total internal water resources are 210 cubic kilometers). Thailand’s total dam capacity is 85 cubic kilometers, about 43% of annual runoff. About 95% of water withdrawals are used for agriculture, with the balance split between domestic and industrial use.

Thailand’s rapid economic growth has strained the country’s water resources as various needs – agricultural expansion, industrial growth and urban growth – compete for water. Between 1996 and 2004, water demand increased by almost 35%. Within Bangkok and surrounding provinces, water withdrawal has caused land subsidence.

Water quality countrywide is considered fair, although in urban areas and areas of intensive agricultural operations and industrial development, water sources are often polluted from the discharge of untreated waste and chemicals. Drinking water in Bangkok is supplied by Metropolitan Waterworks Authority and generally meets WHO standards for safety, but open canals crisscrossing the city serve as repositories of domestic and industrial waste and are highly contaminated. Countrywide, contamination of water sources is a growing problem.

Thailand’s strong civil society and media have fuelled active public debates over water use in Thailand. In particular, dams have been a focal point for disputes over competing water uses and water management.

Regional water shortages in the Mekong River basin affect millions of people in Northern and Northeastern Thailand, as well as in China’s Yunan Province, Burma’s eastern Shan State and Laos’s northern areas. Governance of the Mekong’s resources is currently insufficient to address upstream/downstream and lateral riparian issues, including the allocation of water for multiple uses between different countries and within each country. A wide range of civil society organizations has expressed concern over the effects of China’s dam construction on the upper Mekong River (the Lacang) on downstream users in northern Thailand and Laos. Many have also voiced concerns over recently revived plans to construct approximately 11 new dams on the Mekong’s lower mainstream, citing threats to food security and livelihoods. Research by the Mekong River Basin Commission (MRC) and others institutions indicates that the Mekong fisheries are both highly important to the subsistence and livelihood of downstream Basin residents – and particularly to the poorest of these – as well as highly vulnerable to potential damage from the proposed dam construction.

Country Profile: Legal and Institutional Environment

Legal Framework

Thailand’s Constitution provides that the state shall enact policies with relation to natural resources and the environment, including water. The state has the authority to prescribe rules designed to support and develop the sustainable use of water resources; ensure that farmers have sufficient water for farming; mitigate pollution; and improve conditions affecting the health, welfare and quality of life. The Constitution states that the public shall have an opportunity to participate in the development of policies and rules governing the use of natural resources.

Thailand does not have a comprehensive water law and has been in the process of drafting and supporting passage of a water law since 1992. In 2000, the Cabinet recognized the need for (1) the adoption of a water law; (2) the creation of water management organizations both at national and river basin levels; (3) the establishment of efficient and sustainable individual river basin water use priorities to ensure suitable and equitable water allocation for all water-use sectors; (4) the formulation of clear directions for water provision and development; (5) water-resource development for farmers; and (6) accelerated planning for flood and drought protection, while taking into account the analysis of forecast climate change impacts. The policy supports participation of the public and NGOs in efficient water management and calls for the development of clear guidelines on rights and responsibilities of the various civil and government agencies and groups in national water-management efforts. More broadly, the policy promotes the inclusion of water-related topics at all levels of the educational curriculum.

The version of the draft water law that has been pending for several years provides that water belongs to the public domain and users are entitled to the water on their land. Water rights can be traded except in times of drought, when the government can limit water use. The draft law grants people the right to water for basic domestic uses while promoting good management; sustainable and efficient use; and development, protection, rehabilitation, and conservation of water resources. The draft law provides for the participation of people in the process of resource governance and for the establishment of water organizations at the national, river basin and sub-basin levels, including water user organizations.

The government has restructured the governance of the water sector and established River Basin Committees, but has not yet enacted a comprehensive water law. Hurdles to adoption of legislation have included concerns about the lack of stakeholder participation in the process; a lack of political support for a ministry devoted solely to water resources; issues of pricing and revenue collection; and concern over the impact of a fee-based system on the poor. The first draft water law (1993) introduced a water permit system and possible fee structure and proposed to establish a new Ministry for Water Resources. This draft failed for three primary reasons: (1) challenges by some politicians that the law (and particularly the proposal to create a new ministry) was politically motivated; (2) challenges by the media and general public that the public did not participate in preparing the draft; and (3) claims by the NGO community that external interests unduly influenced the draft. Acting on the 2000 Cabinet Resolution to accelerate enactment of water legislation, the Department of Water Resources began a new drafting process in 2002 which included extensive public consultation. After multiple years, this process resulted in compromise legislation which featured a water permit system with specific provisions to reduce or eliminate the financial impact of water use fees on the poor. Although this draft was considered to be widely accepted, it was not adopted at that time. It does not appear that the question of comprehensive water legislation has been vigorously revisited in recent years.

The People’s Irrigation Act of 1937 (as amended) governs the creation of private irrigation systems. The State Irrigation Act of 1942 provides for the creation and maintenance of irrigation systems.

Under customary law, water is perceived as an open-access resource that is supported by local-level water management systems. Thailand’s villages have developed water management systems that acknowledge differences in water availability, geography and water uses. In many cases these traditional systems of water management have merged with or been adopted as part of formal water-resource governance systems managed by River Basin Committees.

Institutional Framework

Until 1989, the institutional administration of water resources in Thailand was fragmented across 38 departments under 10 ministries, one independent agency and six national committees. In 1989, the government created the National Water Resource Committee (NWRC), which is chaired by the Prime Minister and includes members of relevant ministries appointed by the Prime Minister. The NWRC is responsible for (1) proposing water policy; (2) establishing guidelines for government agencies, state-enterprises, and other organizations in planning projects for construction or development of water resources and approving and monitoring projects; (3) prioritizing the allocation and control of water usage from different water resources for different needs; and (4) directing, controlling, and monitoring and maintaining water quality.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment has overall responsibility for management of water resources. The Ministry includes the Department of Water Resources, Department of Groundwater Resources and the Department of Pollution Control. The Department of Water Resources is responsible for administrative management, development, conservation, rehabilitation, control and oversight of water resources. The Department’s tasks include recommending water policies and master plans; developing a water resource database and GIS network; developing or making recommendations for improving and rectifying laws, rules and regulations regarding national water-resource administrative; disseminating and promoting the transfer of technology to conserve and develop water resources; and cooperating with foreign countries and international organizations regarding water resources. The Department of Groundwater Resources has similar duties relating to groundwater.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives is responsible for management of irrigation-water resources and infrastructure development. The Royal Irrigation Department is established at the national level, with regional irrigation offices covering the river basins. Each of the 25 river basins has a River Basin Committee whose members include government officials, state enterprise representatives, elected representatives of local government units, water user groups, and stakeholders who work or live in the river basins. The committees are responsible for (1) providing input on NWRC policies, plans and projects; (2) formulating water resources management plans; (3) prioritizing water allocation; (4) monitoring and evaluating performance of relevant agencies; (5) compiling statistics, data, comments and recommendations regarding water resources management; (6) conciliating conflicts; and (7) conducting public relations, receiving comments and promoting understanding among the general public of the committee’s performance. The Department of Water Resources provides technical and financial support to the River Basin Committees. Implementation of water management plans is undertaken by district and Tambon-level (subdistrict) offices.

At the village level, rules regarding water access vary. In some villages, surface and ground water are open-access resources, and access is not regulated. In most irrigated areas, water user groups manage the access to and allotment of irrigation water. In other villages, local leaders are responsible for managing water resources and mediating conflicts.

Government Reforms and Interventions

The government has identified the following challenges in the water sector at the national level, (1) the country continues to lack a legal framework governing water resources; (2) work by water-related agencies is not coordinated; (3) the budget is ineffectively implemented; and (4) information about water resources development is poorly managed. At the basin level, the sector suffers from: (1) lack of a legal and institutional framework; (2) insufficient efforts to encourage public participation in large-scale projects; (3) absence of a system of conflict management; and (4) a lack of a sense of ownership and shared responsibility for using, managing and conserving water resources.

Beginning in 2003, the government has at various times proposed the development of a National Water Grid. Through the construction of a network of pipelines, tunnels and canals, the grid would transfer water from water-rich areas to water-short regions and increase the amount of irrigated land nationwide. The project is controversial because of its estimated price tag (US $5–10 billion), construction time (5–23 years), technical feasibility and anticipated adverse environmental and social impacts. The project has not proceeded, although there is consideration of smaller projects to link water basins.

Thailand is a member of the Mekong River Commission and signatory to the 1995 Mekong River Basin Agreement, which provides for joint management of the shared river resources and development of the river’s economic potential. Other members are Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The agreement does not address water sharing. The Commission’s goals are to (1) promote and support coordinated, sustainable and pro-poor development; (2) enhance effective regional cooperation;(3) strengthen basin-wide environmental monitoring and impact assessment; and (4) strengthen the Integrated Water Resources Management capacity and knowledge base of the commission bodies, national Mekong committees, line agencies and other stakeholders. Civil society organizations and donors called into question the Commission’s transparency and its ability to assess and respond proactively and in a timely manner to the social, ecological and economic needs of member countries, and have criticized the Commission for its overemphasis on hydroelectricity and dam construction. The Commission’s capacity is also limited by the fact that neither China nor Myanmar, the two upper riparian countries, are members.

Country Profile: Water Sector Coordination

See Sector coordination sub-page for detailed description

Country Profile: Trends in Water Use, Management and Sanitation

Country Profile: Challenges and Opportunities

Donor Involvement

USAID funded the Thailand Post-Tsunami Sustainable Coastal Livelihoods Program that is working to reestablish sustainable coastal livelihoods and build local governance capacity. Through regional programs, the agency has also funded programs to build capacity of local watershed managers, improve watershed management and provide a drinking-water purification system to communities. USAID funded a project that improved water delivery at 225 waterworks countrywide, servicing an estimated 11.3 million people. The agency also funded a study of sustainable livelihoods and water management in the Lower Songkram Basin. The purpose of the study was to learn how to help communities relying on key water-basin resources to sustain livelihoods as water-resource availability fluctuates due to climate change.

ADB is working with the Government of Thailand to pilot an integrated water-resource management program. The goal of the project is to improve the conservation, management and planning of the country’s water and related natural resources (such as forests and aquatic zones). The project seeks to protect local residents’ livelihoods while promoting sustainable use of the natural resources. ADB’s Water Financing Program 2006–2010 will provide the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment with technical support to help create an integrated water management plan for the Yom River basin.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has been funding a 3-year program (through 2010) providing technical support to the Royal Irrigation Department on irrigation-water management for sustainable development and the use of computers for efficient water management. Urban water supply and sanitation projects are being funded by multiple donors including Germany, Japan, Italy, Spain, and UNICEF.


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Projects and Case Studies

Projects in or about Thailand

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Case studies in or about Thailand

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5 most recently updated publications on Thailand
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5 most popular publications on Thailand
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See the complete list of WaterWiki documented publications on Thailand

Who is Who

People working in Thailand
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Organizations working in Thailand
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See also

External Resources

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