With the recent passing of the Loy Kratong festival, Thai people paid their customary respect to the goddess of the waters by floating candlelit offerings along the Kingdom’s waterways.
And when Thais usher in their new year in April, water will again take centre stage as festival-goers use everything from water guns to buckets to douse each other with the precious commodity for good luck.
Water holds a special place in the psyche of Thais but has increasingly carried negative connotations as rapid urbanisation has highlighted huge economic costs associated with flooding. Images of cities and farmland submerged under water in 2011 attest to the power of flooding in recent times in a nation that frequently wrestles with drought.
Shifting weather patterns, exacerbated by climate change, are partly to blame for increasing water-related problems in Thailand, but there is one human element we must not ignore: mismanagement of water resources.
Thai cities are feeling the strain as an explosion in industrial growth and tourism takes its toll on water reserves, an essential input for preserving livelihoods and the broader economy. Phuket is but one example: the 8 million-odd tourists who visited the palm-fringed island last year put water resources under massive pressure from over-usage and pollution.
Across Thailand, unregulated use of urban land, where waterways are filled up and deforestation occurs to make way for new housing projects and factories, is depleting water tables and seriously compromising quality.