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Statute of Ao Udom, a model that grows from health issues to community and environmental benefits

The Network of Eastern Friends was formed by the people who got up to fight against dangers brought by the Eastern Seaboard Development Project. Many members of the network have become community-based researchers. They have been gathering evidence to cope with the large-scaled operators who have been polluting the environment.

Among the activists is Somnuck Jongmeewasin, also known as Ajarn Kheow, who is well-known among environmental activists in the East. He gained knowledge about the management of architectural heritage and tourism from the Faculty of Architecture at Silpakorn University. He has always been interested in the preservation of ancient buildings, temples, palaces and residences in Bangkok and other provinces including Ayutthaya, Chanthaburi and Lop Buri.

One day he realized that humans, nature and buildings inevitably connect to one another and problems will occur if imbalance happens among them. “I studied architecture and worked for the conservation of temples, palaces and residences. But if there is no one, what is the use of conserving those buildings?" Mr Somnuck noted.

The question prompts him to expand his conservation activities to communities as he believes that empowered communities will bring about sustainable conservation.

He started to expand the conservation at his native community and that leads to the Statute of the Ao Udom community that has become a model of community management for people elsewhere.

His increasing focus on communities is inspired by his own mother. “Mom likes to help others and told me to do so because she saw villagers being taken advantage of. When I did my doctoral research, my mother accompanied me to communities and we saw many decaying houses. My mother went everywhere. Finally it turned out that I did conservation projects for the 11 communities that my mother assigned. Tourism was promoted there for community dwellers to raise funds for the renovation of houses, temples etc,” Mr Somnuck said.

ThaiPublica: Would you please elaborate on the Statute of Ao Udom?

At Ao Udom Bay there are six ports handling bulk cargo, farm products, coal, gas and oil that pollute communities. Therefore, in 2013 local people came up with the “Statute of Ao Udom” that is based on the Statute on National Health Systems of Thailand. At present community dwellers, industrialists and port operators at Ao Udom Bay are cooperating with one another. They have organized public hearings and signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to jointly implement the statute.

The National Health Systems Statute of Thailand focuses on health issues. We adapt it to address community and environmental issues. ‘Me’ is replaced with ‘we’. This is to turn our rivals into our partners. In Chon Buri it is impossible to eliminate industries because industrialists have invested. So, we must make industries co-exist with people. My favorite golden sentence is that ‘Villagers have adapted for a long time. It is now time for industries to adapt too.’ If both sides adapt, they will change and can co-exist. The industries that are too dangerous and unacceptable to villagers and of which industrialists cannot rule out the negative impacts on the environment and health should not be introduced. All parties must talk and reach agreements.

Of the six port operators across the bay, three have signed the MoU with community dwellers. They are Siam Commercial Seaport Co, J.C. Marine Service Co and Kerry Logistics (Thailand) Co. Thaioil, PTT and Esso (Thailand) have not done so as they claim that they are public limited companies.

But in mid February I happened to meet an executive of Esso, so I told the executive that the possibility to sign the MoU should not depend on whether the company was a public one or not but would rather depend on its sincerity. Then the executive said he would discuss the matter with other concerned persons. For Thaioil and PTT, I think if Esso signs the MoU, these two companies should follow suit. Although the three companies have not signed the MoU, they have done more activities with the community. Besides, the Laem Chabang municipality signed the MoU as a witness and mediator.

The drafting of the Statute of Ao Udom began in late 2011. When it was done, it was used in negotiations with operators right away. Lately the port of Kerry would enter its fourth-stage expansion. Three public hearings were organized. Community representatives coped by presenting their environmental impact assessment to the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning for three times as well. Finally Kerry Co called off the fourth-phase port project because it admits that the project would cause considerable problems and impacts and also because economic problems make the project unfeasible. I have heard that it will not build any more port. This is the first positive sign.

The second one is that J.C. Marine agrees to apply an enclosed system for its coal transportation and to do its best to cover its existing transportation system pending the development of the enclosed one. Staffs will be deployed to keep cleaning coal dust off roads. The transportation will be suspended in strong winds. The community committee will be informed of coal transportation a week in advance. An objective of the statute of the community is to protect the area. The community does not care what you transport but the cargo must be safe. Although companies comply with requirements stated in their licenses, they must also take care of the environment.

J.C. Marine lets community dwellers take part in designing the enclosed transportation system, so the environment-friendly system also belongs to the community. Ao Udom Bay develops one of the first models of enclosed coal transportation systems and it can be applied at ports in other provinces including Ayutthaya

Besides, J.C. Marine is willing to set up a community welfare fund with parts of proceeds from its coal transportation. The fund will pay for the medical treatment of community dwellers and be monthly allowances for the elderly. Villagers already had the fund registered. No one has claimed welfare from the fund pending the appointment of its board.

I have persuaded locals in 15 other areas to develop their community statutes like the Statute of Ao Udom. People in some areas do not face a threat, so their statutes concern only health issues. They set the regulations of their communities including those concerning local rice cultivation, food security and what can be allowed and what cannot in their communities.

Lately I lectured in Tambon Ban Puek community in Muang Chon Buri district of Chon Buri province to prepare villagers to cope with incoming industries. I taught the people to know their community, heritage, problems and future. They were advised to study their own history, find out their true resources and heritage and determine what threatens the value of their identity and heritage. Finally they can design their own future and thus their own community statute. People in Ban Puek already realize that their identity consists of fishery and vintage-styled weaving learnt from a palace.

The small model of Ao Udom has led to numerous efforts. I consider that Ao Udom has triggered many developments. Most importantly the process of making the Statute of Ao Udom has been communicated to people in many provinces such as Prachin Buri, Rayong and Trat. It depends on who can thrive. People in various areas adapt it differently. However, other communities obtain guidelines for their own course of actions. Besides, the development of a statute means transformative scenario planning and it is introduced for the first time in the East.

The Statute of Ao Udom has led to a large number of subsequent models that are adapted to suit local contexts. Finally people realize the power of such a small community as Ao Udom. Its efforts began with seven people and expanded to 12 people and finally over 1,000 people who collectively develop power and force ‘giants’ to support sustainable growth. This has nothing to do with me or any community leader but it is the driving force of the community and operators who have argued with each other with information and facts, not beliefs.

Unless a community is strong and sees cooperation by people of all groups and ages, the driving force will be slow. An example is the case of oil leakage off Rayong province. Although the incident has very severe impacts and many parties lend a helping hand, community dwellers must stand on their own feet first. In other areas, we have trained locals and then they take actions with our consistent assistance. If we train community dwellers but they do not take any action, the helpers will be tired.

At the Ao Udom community, locals are quite strong because they have no more land to lose. Yet there are some problems about, for example, some people being hired by operators to mislead other locals. However, such a movement is limited because members of the committees supervising operations of companies and members of the community committee are different persons. Consequently power is clearly decentralized and all people have their say.

ThaiPublica: the impacts of pollution go beyond Ao Udom Bay

Impacts on Ao Udom Bay and Chao Phraya Surasak municipality expand to Laem Chabang municipality and vice versa because there are many more ports in Laem Chabang area including Sriracha Harbour where coal is handled and the port of Mah Boon Krong Drying and Silo (currently belonging to Double A) where tapioca is handled. Both ports have greatly polluted the sea. The management of Sriracha Harbour claimed that an enclosed system was applied to transport coal but we found out that is a lie. Then people of Ao Udom complained with the sub-committee on the environment and natural disasters of the Senate. Afterwards the management of the port admitted that they had not expected the impact would also reach Laem Chabang municipality. They thought that it was contained within Chao Phraya Surasak municipality. After we explained to them and they saw a book on the abundant resources of the Ao Udom Bay made by community dwellers, they better understand. Finally the management of the port agrees to cooperate with the community, study the statute of the community and will form a committee to supervise the port like committees formed at Ao Udom Bay.

Fights with protests or lawsuits are tiring. We would rather talk and create mutual understanding.

However, this does not happen with the managements of all ports. At Ao Udom Bay, the managements of three ports have signed the MoU but one port fails to keep promises. We complained with the sub-committee of the Senate. Lately the management of the port presented its reasons but community dwellers replied that it was too late as they are shocked.

In Chon Buri there will be two more ports. I think villagers already overlook money as I told them that ‘Money takes away local heritage. If you had not worshipped money, sold your land, taken operators’ money and accepted projects, the area would not be so damaged.’ Everyone agrees with me. Today Ao Udom Bay is really rehabilitated. We told Thaioil to reclaim the beach and we get part of the beach back. Food stalls start to emerge. Villagers start to lay mats and relax and monkeys are playing on the beach.

ThaiPublica: What brings the success of Ao Udom Bay?

Importantly villagers must understand themselves and know who will benefit or harm their community in the future.

People in the Ao Udom Bay community accepted ports because they did not think the projects would have a negative impact. When the impacts happened, it was too late for villagers to take any action. Operators were mean. They bribed community leaders with what they call corporate social responsibility projects. When community leaders received money, they bowed to operators. They concealed negative impacts from villagers. When such practices happened over and over again, poor conditions expanded throughout the community. Even the chairman of the community and many villagers who worked for the operators finally have had enough and villagers’ uprisings follow.

The first uprising happened as the news of another port project shocked villagers. In the first place, locals forgot that old ports continue to pose problems. Afterwards villagers jointly assessed impacts on their community and then came up with the first environmental impact assessment (EIA) report of the Ao Udom Bay community. Under the report, villagers required operators to improve their existing ports before discussing a new port project.

The EIA triggered further study on the community and people learned about the identity of their community including their heritage, resources, problems and future. The longer the study continues, the more locals think about their future. Previously no one in the Ao Udom Bay community looked at their future. Even Thai people nationwide have no ideas about their future either although this is very important.

For example, the community where the Amata industrial estate now stands used to be a very important piece of farmland and the source of the world’s best soil as well as Asia’s and the world’s renowned Hom Mali 105 rice, shrimps and fish. Then villagers gradually sold their land and lost altogether over 20,000 rai or 32 square kilometers. Today the villagers have no ideas when they are asked to think about their future.

ThaiPublica: Do Ao Udom Bay villagers stand up and fight because impacts are critical and it is their last resort?

Yes. We have no other ways out. We must fight now. We admit that there are a lot of indifferent and arrogant people in the country. Arrogant ones will not group. Meanwhile, there are many types of indifferent people including those who just wait for victory and those who are dissatisfied and those who or whose relatives work at those companies. No one wants to group. At Ao Udom Bay, we turned indifferent and arrogant people into those who are willing to group. This model has been applied in many areas to encourage cooperation. The Statute of Ao Udom states clearly that it concerns people’s politics. In other words, it is the model for people’s councils in the future.

The people’s councils that we know are the fourth pillar that will check the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The committees supervising the individual ports are a kind of people’s councils. Through the committees, people can regulate, oversee, monitor and examine businesses. For example, they check the monthly reports on environmental solutions of the companies and examine the details of new projects. If business people fail to give such information to community dwellers, they will be considered as concealing information and community dwellers will not tolerate that. If business people discuss with community dwellers the impacts of their projects and conduct environmental impact assessment to jointly reduce the impacts, community dwellers can accept new projects.

People of Ao Udom Bay do not bow to coal transportation because they are threatened. They agree with the business because the owner of the port agrees to reduce the impacts as the community proposes. For example, the operator considers the directions of wind, applies an enclosed transportation system and keeps roads clean. The operator has the details of activities and accepts the enclosed system and the warehouse location that villagers proposed.

Every community should apply the model because no one knows the problems of a community better than community dwellers who are directly affected do. Initially the port operators did not listen. We invited them to inspect problems in the community and both sides then understand each other.  To convince them, we must have data and solutions for them. All of these are included in the Statute of Ao Udom.

Operators can no longer say that villagers are stupid. Are the operators not stupid for introducing polluting businesses? Now we must be clever and find ways to prevent negative impacts and ensure positive ones. Operators must be responsible. They are clever and know their own businesses better than villagers do. How can they be unaware of the impacts of their businesses on local communities?

There are also interesting models of other communities such as Tha Sala community where a large number of people gather for discussions. Another interesting model is that of people in Chana district of Songkhla province concerning the construction of the second Songkhla port to connect to the Pak Bara port. The model of Chana began with discussions, letters and data collection. Villagers used to be too tired to fight after their unsuccessful opposition to gas separation plant projects that led to the arrests of locals. Villagers were afraid of lawsuits and threats. At this time, people of Tha Sala and Satun lend a helping hand and inspire people in Chana to fight again.

When I was in Chana, villagers told me that they wanted to fight but they were exhausted. They used to fight but the plants were finally built. Later I met members of a dove association and learned from them that gas emissions of the plants make their doves sing lower than expected. Each egg of their doves is quoted at 30,000 baht and the prices of their doves involve seven figures. They also have marine resources. So, I used the model of the Statute of Ao Udom to calculate the economic values of their doves. When they realized their own values, they became ready to fight. Now they can make their own movements.

ThaiPublica: How were people encouraged to group?

We cannot assure that all locals and operators will participate right from the start but at least the people meet frequently after signing an MoU and this leads to teams. In meetings operators present what they want to build and villagers say what they will oppose. Will they bring the future that villagers want? Then they reach decisions as to whether projects can be implemented.

Regarding the Ao Udom Port, I advised villagers to look at not only its harm but also its good. For example, a large number of shells, shrimps, crabs and fish will live among the pillars of docks. So, concerned people will decide where fishing can take place. The locations where fishing is impossible can be developed into docks. If another port is needed, they will design its structure and develop a model to cushion impacts.

Operators must have the mindset that they will not build another port unless they fully use existing ones and that they will not handle hazardous cargo. If they are to transport hazardous cargo, they must apply enclosed transportation systems.

Some companies may claim that they have invested considerably. I do not mind their investment but villagers greatly adapted and the companies already made huge profits from their investments. Today the companies should spend those profits on making their facilities safer. Then the companies are willing to discuss the matter.

A representative of a port said villagers always accused his company of causing problems due to its coal transportation. He told villagers to look at other ports in Thailand as they also pose similar problems. The representative said that if other ports were improved, his port would follow suit. I told him that his port should instead set a precedent for other ports. Ports at Ao Udom were built like ports elsewhere and it is time for his port to change. If one port throws out 10 kilograms of garbage, ten ports will dump 100 kilograms. You cannot claim that you make a small amount of garbage because when it is combined with garbage from other ports, it becomes huge and villagers must suffer from that whole lot of garbage. The representative was then speechless and afterwards said he understood the situation.

ThaiPublica: Does the model of 4 Knows show the value of the community?

The model of 4 Knows comprises:
1. Know ourselves – we must know who we are and what we and our ancestors did. What is our identity? How has our society developed?
2. Know our heritage – we must know our local resources including soil, water, wind, fire, plants, canals and cultures. These “two Knows” create the plan of the community which describes clearly what each area is and was and what remains or is lost.
3. Know problems and impacts – we must know what is good and bad for our community and what will ruin its identity and heritage.
4. Know the future – we must design it and solve problems in our community. This will lead to the environmental impact assessment of the community.

The EIA of the community developed into the statute of the community. Academic work is done in villagers’ styles. The statute of Ao Udom comes from studies that result in complete knowledge about local problems and the statute is applied to solve the problems. There are 10 elements of the statute: 1) a plan to manage the heritage of the community, 2) a conservation plan, 3) a rehabilitation plan, 4) a plan for sustainable benefits, 5) a plan to solve local problems, 6) a plan to handle pollution, 7) a plan to develop people’s politics, 8) a plan to protect the local identity, 9) a plan to endlessly develop knowledge as industries have changed the community, and 10) a plan to encourage cooperation with community dwellers in order to change foes to friends.

Finally the statute was drafted. It states clearly that the conservation of Ao Udom Bay requires local authorities to protect natural resources and the environment. For example, people must be encouraged to grow plants and trees and breed aquatic animals that are suitable to the community and its ecosystems. Shrimps must be released on August 12 and December 5 and an area of 3,000 square meters is determined to be free of commercial fishing boats.

We will set up a fishing association to create bargaining power. Slope areas and mountains must not be physically changed and encroachments on the sea and any projects that will affect marine ecosystems must be prohibited. Environmental impacts, pollution control and rehabilitation must be followed up.

 “I believe that what has been developed in the East is a kind of reform that Thailand can apply.”

Now my group works on not only the statute but also a self-management province initiative. Unless we can set our own directions, we will be doomed. No matter how good the statute is, it cannot go against orders of provincial authorities. Besides, a very strong statute cannot cope with simultaneously incoming projects.

Can we achieve our goal? I think that we must divide the goal into stages. At least the first stage of collective initiatives is successful. The fifth stage of success which refers to changes will take some times. Villagers start to realize that unless locals are strong, the country cannot be strong. However, both parts must develop together.

All parties must cooperate and reach the compromise point where operators must inform villagers of their projects and villagers need operators’ support for their activities.

 ThaiPublica: How do you push for the self-management province initiative?

An self-management province must be realized. Seventy percent of locally collected taxes must remain for local administration and the rest 30% will go to government coffers. The provincial governor must be elected. Heads of villages and village clusters will continue to exist. Local organizations will report to the provincial governor. The provincial administrator cannot work in the manner of either the provincial governor or a politician anymore but must have both characteristics to be able to do administrative and management work effectively.

Community statutes and a self-management province act must be done simultaneously and finally they will converge. I think that there will be self-management provinces within at least five years. The idea must be spread now because Thailand has suffered many drawbacks and I do not know when they will end.

All of these can be realized only if community dwellers know themselves and their own data are gradually gathered and turned into a community plan which can later grow to the plan of a sub-district, a district and a province. City-planning in Thailand is top-down. Planners of industrial estates never see actual sites to decide whether they are really suitable for the construction. They simply designate areas through maps.

There are already people’s councils in Sa Kaeo and Prachin Buri. I hope this will also happen in Chon Buri but it may be gradually developed in stages.

ThaiPublica: What is the next step of Ao Udom?

Now there is a crab bank project. It will be developed on an existing crab farm. Many people are studying the farming, so I plan to develop it into a learning center. The first floor of the farm will keep mother crabs that will lay their eggs through pipes into the sea. An area within the 300-meter range off the shore will be protected as the sanctuary of juvenile crabs. The upper floor of the farm can be developed as the learning center where people will learn about conservation-oriented fishing tools, the instruments that should and should not be used along the coast, different kinds of boats etc. We initially introduce environment-friendly fishing to small-scaled fishermen and will later do so with the operators of big fishing boats.

A fishing problem results from the catches of juvenile fish for the fish meal industry. We plan to convince manufacturers not to buy juvenile fish from fishermen so that fishermen will stop catching juvenile fish which include juvenile mackerels, anchovies, crabs and shrimps. If we succeed in this effort, we can considerably relieve the problems of otter trawlers.

Besides, consumers should stop having some kinds of seafood such as juvenile blue crabs in papaya salad and juvenile black crabs in stir-fried rice noodles. We must campaign against the consumption of juvenile marine animals.

These simple ideas from villagers can be promoted as policies. The number of otter trawlers may drop. Small-scaled fishermen may have limited incomes but their business can continue for a century. Otter trawlers can take all aquatic animals in ten years. Villagers must make their choice.

The fishery association of Chon Buri is very strong and has bargaining power. For example, it prohibits big fishing boats from entering an area between Ao Udom and Koh Si Chang Island and imposes a buffer zone to block big fishing boats. The area within a five-kilometer range from the shore belongs to small fishing boats only. Big fishing boats may enter the zone but they must use same instruments with which small fishing boats are equipped. Villagers together with staffs of the Department of Fisheries are watching out for violators.

ThaiPublica: Is it difficult to work with other parties, especially operators?

It is very difficult. I need the sub-committee of the Senate to make appointments. I must go to see the parties I want to contact including government agencies such as the Department of Industrial Works and operators. Then I provide them with clear information so that operators will understand problems. Besides, I produce short films to educate people. Volunteers help produce the films and television program producers lend a helping hand. Such films include a story on “How will we pass Thailand to our children and grandchildren?” It was shot in Ao Udom, Map Phai and the vicinities of the Amata Nakorn Industrial Estate. The video prompts people of Chon Buri to get up and fight because they realize problems in the province. This happens after the short film was screened in places and people underwent training organized together with the Community Organization Council, the Political Development Council, the Chon Buri Health Assembly, the National Health Security Office and municipalities.

Besides, Chon Buri Community University was established. It has operated for two years and collaborated with the Community Organization Council to educate local people and produce community leaders.

In the first year of the university, all students were people from the Community Organization Council who worked on community organizations together with the Community Organizations Development Institute (Public Organization) or CODI. The oldest student was over 70 years old. In the second year, people from municipalities learned about the environment, community economy, operators and the society and had field trips. Then three areas were selected to accommodate the offices of community welfare funds set up by the villagers who studied at the university.

Firstly villagers must know themselves and then they will realize what they have. When they know what they have, they will know what their problems are. If they do not know what they have and what their problems are and they must only be laborers or grow rice and pledge it, then they will not know themselves.

“What we must do is to have community dwellers take actions. We will not have them read information, receive a fund, draft a project and wait for a government budget. Problems come from operators, so villagers must get money from operators and keep it as their budget.

ThaiPublica: Communities can coexist with industries in some manners, can’t they?

Yes, they can. But if we are able to make a choice, we will choose not to have another industry because we have had enough of them and we are not good at having them. Their operators do not know how to take care of the environment and when problems occur, it is difficult to solve them. These include the 31.5 million tons of garbage. How can they be handled?

I have developed statutes by making people in communities know themselves. For example, people in Pattaya do not know that there is the last mangrove forest. People of Khlong Tamru do not know that available salt comes from the last salt evaporation pond in the East.

ThaiPublica: Did you imagine the outcome of your efforts?

I never imagined it. The work for Ao Udom began with Laem Chabang. Someone invited me to attend a forum on the third-phase construction of the port that would also affect my house. So, I volunteered to be a committee member. Since then, I have been working on this. I started at Ao Udom, shifting from the preservation of temples, palaces and houses to community issues. I have learned a lot and done more work.

ThaiPublica: How have you promoted the roles of local young people?

Children in the community have many roles including assistance in graphic production. Most of them are older children but lack broad visions. We do not want the young to study at universities outside the community but would like to see them studying at the community university. But I cannot convince their parents because that is the value of the society. I hope that after the young graduate, they will return to study in the community as well.

Besides, I try to prove that it is also possible to teach lessons about the community at secondary schools. (For example, Roong Aroon School issued a book on the abundance of resources at Ao Udom.) I successfully taught at Mechai Pattana School. I am willing to teach at any community schools that are interested. I taught students about the 4 Knows at schools in Pattaya. Students then drew their desirable future and discussed it with adults. They informed adults of the future that they want and urged adults to meet their demand.

ThaiPublica: How can people be developed to understand the contexts of both communities and operators?

Such people exist in all provinces but their numbers are small. My group grows fast because impacts are obvious. Villagers have learned all from what they have experienced. People of Ao Udom can completely describe all the problems that result from ports and industries. They can do this without having to read a book because they know it all from the experiences that they have gained since their teenage.

We also produce books for other people to learn. The books that were issued are those about the abundance of resources at Ao Udom, an agenda to change the East, and the EIA of Ao Udom and Bang Pakong. The latest book is an EIA manual for villagers that was produced in collaboration with the Thailand Environmental Institute Foundation. It is a comic for free distribution to villagers.

Climate change also changes times for fisheries and vegetable cultivation. Community dwellers must adjust their fishery schedules. This is to make climate change adaptation plans to transfer knowledge to people of the next generation as the knowledge of ancestors is no longer useful.

Local people must review from their first-hand experiences which kinds of animals they can catch in spring and neap tides. They must review the knowledge annually and change their schedules when circumstances change. The adaptation plan of Ao Udom is done and I am persuading people in Bang Lamung to do so.

ThaiPublica: Did villagers quickly understand what a statute is?

No, they did not. I must take long times to explain it. But when they understand it, the work becomes easy. Now villagers are better than me. They can explain it to others better than I can.

Source : posted on 20th March 2014