Island View: Making Penance with the Water Guardian

 

The following opinion piece, conducted by the Siamerican, was initially published in the Island View column of the Phuket Gazette newspaper’s November 12-18, 2011 edition.

THAIS celebrated Loy Krathong on Thursday by paying homage to the water guardian, Mae Koang Ka. In a symbolic gesture to ask forgiveness for polluting waterways, they set afloat handmade kratong, which they believe carried all their misdeeds and bad luck away with the current.

Meanwhile, Bangkok’s street-turned-canals flowed with dark-green, blackened and increasingly raunchy flood runoff – a man-made concoction of motor oil, feces, trash, polystyrene foam, plastic and other debris.

Indeed, the floods have paralyzed the country’s manufacturing sector and seriously threatened the livelihoods of millions of people.

In such a time of crisis, Phuket officials and residents did not hesitate to answer the call of duty. Driven by a good-willed intent to help flood victims, islanders donated clothes, food, water and their hard-earned cash. The Phuket government made it clear that it would not turn its back on the victims in Bangkok when it sent 16 six-wheelers loaded with 250,000 bottles of water, all donated by generous locals.

And as if there weren’t enough water being circulated around the country already, the government announced plans to start importing more bottled water from abroad. The icing on the cake came with the news that the people of Phuket – officials and students alike – joined in a Phuket Provincial Administration Organization-led campaign to start flying plastic boxes full of rice to flood victims.

Their target of 20,000 boxes a day for the rest of the month will easily surpass a million boxes to be distributed throughout the capital. All good news for the plastic production sector. Bad news for the environment, particularly the Gulf of Thailand, where tons of single-use plastic bottles and boxes are bound to end up.

How forgiving should we expect our beloved water guardian to be? According to the most recent Customs data, the island’s largest three export items are rubber, boats, and seafood. If Phuket really wanted to make a difference – in flood victims’ lives and the environment – it should exploit that which it specializes in.

It makes much more sense for Phuket to donate locally-built boats, insulated with rubber (considering many of the flood deaths have been from electrocution) and filled with dried seafood. The Phuket Gazette reported last week that the Phuket Chamber of Commerce was accepting donations for boats and life jackets.

It was also reported that student volunteers at Phuket Technical College were building dozens of boats to be donated to flood victims. This is a move in the right direction. Though, perhaps it would be more beneficial to just send the boat builders to the Chao Phraya river estuary to teach flood victims how to build rafts from the excess of plastic bottles and polystyrene foam trash already there.