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Forests and water in Northern Thailand

CollectionsANU Resources, Environment & Development Group (RE&D)
Title: Forests and water in Northern Thailand
Author(s): Walker, Andrew
Keywords: Northern Thailand
management of upland forests
river systems
agricultural development
water supply
Publisher: Canberra, ACT: Resource Management in Asia-Pacific Program (RMAP), Division of Pacific and Asian History, Research School for Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University
Series/Report no.: Resource Management in Asia-Pacific Program (RMAP) Working Paper: No. 37
Introduction: Everyone knows that forest is the source of water for all people who live on Thai soil. We do not have any other source of water in Thailand … [the forest] provides for underground water storage, making the ground moist as a benefit for all people… The result of cutting forest is the destruction of the water source of the Thai people. (Royal Forest Department/Suan Pa Sirikit nd, my translation) The community knows that these areas of forest apart from naturally storing water also protect springs by preventing them from drying out, somewhat similar to the way skin protects capillaries in the body. As such, many communities maintain the forests in areas where there are springs—referring to these community forests as nam sap or pa nam jam or pa nam phud—by way of various regulations under the control of people within the communities themselves. (Royal Forest Department 1998: 26, my translation) Thung Kao Hang is a village…in the upper part of the Li watershed, an important source of water for the fertile rice growing areas downstream. …Efforts to exert more control over local resources began only after the richly forested areas around the village had been mostly destroyed by logging and shifting cultivators and the villagers began to experience severe water shortages. (Chusak and Dearden 1999: 682) Villagers manage each type of forest differently. For example, they don’t farm in the Ker Ner Meu forest. As this type of forest is a water source surrounded by large trees that are characteristically cool and dense, if rice was planted here it would produce little; alternatively if the forest was cleared the streams and creeks would dry up or be reduced in size and number. Thus, the villagers look after these kinds of forests as water sources within a community preserve. … It is forbidden to cut down any trees in the protected community forest. This is to protect it as a water source for production and for use and consumption by the community. (Northern Development Foundation et al. 1999: 75, 116, my translation) A simple lifestyle, using minimal resources, having just enough to eat and being at one with nature, leaves the forest, soil and water, surrounding the village, abundant and fertile. Vast humid forests bring rain. Some of the water from the rain washes fertilizer from decomposed leaves down into the fields, paddies and orchards. The rest is absorbed by the forest and slowly released for the community to use all year, forming streams and creeks that flow unhindered into rivers. (Northern Development Foundation 1996: 9, my translation) The catchment is under high forest cover and the soil is covered by grass, bark and litter… This watershed functions like a sponge, absorbing water during the rainy season and with a long period of seepage into stream during the rest of the dry season. (International Board for Soil Research and Management 1997)


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