Forestry experts and environmental activists yesterday called on the government to move more than 2 million people out of mountainous areas, especially those in headwater forests, to protect forests from encroachment and prevent floods.
Environmental groups also asked the government to set up a preservation fund to rehabilitate and restore degraded forest areas. The proposed fund would collect money from water-bill payments.
The calls were made at a seminar titled “Headwater Forest Strategy and the Way to Prevent Flood and Drought” organised by the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department. About 350 people took part, including forestry officials, forestry experts, environmental activists and members of civic groups.
The department, along with the National Parks Association, Forestry Alumni Society and Forest and Water Crisis Management Network, has produced a draft national strategy on headwater catchment as a key blueprint to restore forests and prevent deforestation over the next 20 years.
The plan comprises six strategies: conserving 75 million rai (120,000 square kilometres) of headwater areas nationwide; rehabilitating and restoring 10 million rai of degraded headwater forests; building public awareness of the need for headwater-forest conservation; encouraging public participation in headwater-forest management; developing legal measures to protect headwater forests; and setting up an information centre.
The plan to relocate about 2 million people out of mountainous areas was one of the strongest measures proposed to protect headwater forests.
A study conducted by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry found that massive deforestation caused by commercial farming in mountainous areas (Class 1 and 2 watershed areas at 500-1,500 metres above sea level) was one of the major causes of last year’s severe flooding.
More than 3.7 million rai of headwater forest in six river basins including the Ping, Wang, Yom and Nan were severely damaged by commercial farming of such crops as maize and rice.
“We need to reduce the population in the mountainous areas and control land use. Moving people from mountainous areas to lower-lying areas would be a good way to protect headwater forests,” said Wattana Wachirodom, an official from the Forest and Water Crisis Management Network.
Natural Resources and Environment Ministry permanent secretary Chote Trachoo said he personally disagreed with the idea.
“Relocating millions of people out of mountainous areas would be a very, very big issue,” he said.
Instead of removing people from forest areas, Chote said, the government will pay people living in mountainous areas to plant trees and protect forests.
“We have to change the way they live. Planting trees and protecting forests would help them earn a living,” he said.
To date, the government has allocated Bt10 billion to headwater-forest rehabilitation projects, but Chote did not reveal how much of this would be spent on paying people to plant trees and protect forests.
National Parks Association president Surachet Chettamas said the government should set up a special fund to support communities and non-governmental organisations’ efforts to protect headwater forests. The government should allocate Bt1 billion as seed money to establish the fund, then collect money from taxpayers via their water bills, Surachet said.