How Udon Thani planned the city to cope with climate change
Udon Thani city and climate impacts
Udon Thani sees itself as a major economic centre of northeastern Thailand, as well as a transportation hub of the upper northeast and the region. However, the city has also experienced significant flooding in 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2011 and suffers from repeated inundations, especially in the low-lying area in the north of the city. Historical data and rainfall predictions show a decrease in the number of days of rainfall but increased intensity on days when it does rain. These climate and non-climate variables make Udon Thani city susceptible to both flood and drought with such negative consequences as urban inundation followed by dry spells and water shortages. Huay Luang is the main water source for the city and the agricultural sector and sometimes, these two are in conflict.
With population growth, a rising demand for water as well as climate pressures, urban services including water supply and wastewater management are at risk. Both business-as-usual and extreme or high growth development scenarios show that the capacity of water supply and the wastewater infrastructure will be unable to accommodate rapid urban growth, rising demand and economic activities in the future.
How to tackle local issues: Work with locals
In response to these challenges, the concept of “Urban Resilience Planning and Adaptive Urban Governance” is being encouraged as an integral part of local development policy and planning. On 27 June 2019, the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP) with the support of the Risk-Based National Adaptation Plan (Risk-NAP) project of GIZ Thailand, Urban Futures and Policy, Thammasat University and SEA START Regional Center co-hosted a dissemination event titled ‘Resilient Spatial Planning and Adaptive Urban Governance’ in Udon Thani province.
Approximately 80 participants from national and local government bodies including representatives from the Department of Public Works and Town & Country Planning’s central administration and provincial administration of Udon Thani, water-related management and services authorities, representatives from the community, municipalities, chamber of commerce and developers, local think tanks, city development networks, local academic institutions as well as representatives from neighbouring cities participated in this result-dissemination event. The representatives from Udon Thani’s communities and municipalities actively presented their opinions from the viewpoint on the ground. Roles were discussed to inspire other cities to launch similar initiatives. “Thank you for choosing Udon Thani as a pilot study. There are a lot of consequences on our city as a result of the climate. We have not only been facing floods, but the inundations exacerbate waste-related problems in the city,” said Vice Governor of Udon Thani, Mr. Pramote Thanyapued.
The key solution: Resilient Planning and Adaptive Law and Adaptive Governance
Dr. Phirun Saiyasitpanich, Deputy Secretary General, ONEP, said: “Udon Thani is characterized by rapid economic development and population growth. It is very interesting to understand the dynamics of the city and see how to promote climate change adaptation in the context of the resilience concept from the perspectives of both adaptive governance and spatial planning.”
Mr. Tim Mahler, Country Director of GIZ Thailand and Malaysia added:“The impact of climate change is growing stronger, not only in Thailand but everywhere in the world. The research is not only for academic purposes but also helps the government and business sector be well prepared for the future and adapt to the changing climate, in particular when it is local research in a specific context.”
Policy recommendations proposed by Dr. Wijitbutsaba Marome from the faculty of Architecture and Planning, Thammasat University and Dr. Pornson Liengboonlertchai from the Political Science Department, Chulalongkorn University include:
Relocating wastewater treatment plant to more appropriate area
Resilient rainwater management to ensure water availability and cope with rising demand
Establishing green network corridors to link water resources and allow better access
Improving water storage or constructing a new urban catchment for the city
Developing a “resilient plan” as part of the town planning law and spatial planning system to support sustainable development in flood-prone areas
The policy, law and institutional recommendations on the possibility of implementation and enhancement of resilient urban planning were also proposed and discussed.
The development of incentive mechanisms for local government to provide reliable information to improve all planning processes.
The establishment of an expert organization to provide more reliable data; adoption of the resilient spatial planning concept as part of the town planning law to enable effective policy and law enforcement.
Support for the proactive roles of the town planning board at the provincial level, in particular an approval process which allows participatory spatial planning development and enables adaptive law and governance.
What lies ahead: scaling up to other cities
This dissemination event from the perspective of Udon Thani province is one of the awareness-raising initiatives that allow mutual understanding among stakeholders of climate change risks and impacts. This is the first crucial step in providing clear evidence of the scenarios based on climate impacts. It is expected that the case of Udon Thani will help trigger strategic thinking among policy makers or developers in other cities to proactively address both climatic and non-climatic challenges by integrating the resilient city concept with the provincial strategic directions and future development goals.