Summer downpours aren't normal for tropical countries like Thailand, where it has been relentlessly raining for almost a week, causing the flashfloods and the like. After hastily finishing a cup of coffee I ventured the rainy streets of Phaholyothin Soi 11 heading towards Ari where Arthur the offices' Communications Manager was waiting along with the media people whom the office invited to 'bear witness', to one of the horrid effects of climate change to coastal communities, in order to communicate the urgency of tackling climate change to the bureaucrats of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) who are meeting this week in Bangkok to discuss ways to mitigate global warming.
It took us more than an hour to drive to the place where we'll be taking a boat ride towards the coastal community of Khun Samutchine, which is the first community in Thailand to suffer the direct impacts of coastal erosion caused largely by storm surges brought about by climate change. While on the boat I got to meet Aurelie Uricher, a Solar Generation member from France who along with a host of other youth from around the world who are part of Solar Generation which is made up of young people from all over the world who are taking action against climate change and calling for a clean energy future, which was initiated by Greenpeace.
From the boat we were told that we'd be taking a short hike towards the village, of which we were told that we have to take off our shoes because it was very slippery because of the mud and rain. As we were hiking it's very obvious that the narrow patch of land that we're walking in used to be a part of a larger portion of the land mass in the area. Walking there you'd easily notice structures of what used to be were houses covered in eroded soil.
As we reached the village center we were greeted by a host of hospitable kids who offered us Pepsi and clean water to rinse our muddy feet on. Later on we were greeted by this huge woman who was introduced to us as their mayor, (or was it village chief?) Samorn Knegsamut, who showed us old photos of the place as well as artifacts from an ancient Chinese-Thai community that they were able to dig up since the soil subsequently eroded years earlier. She also told us of her account of how the soil erosion has forced her and a lot from the community to move their house 8 times so as to adapt to the rising waters that seemed to be engulfing their village.
Soon after, we were again hiking passing thru a row of houses on stilts; mud covered dogs' half-buried electrical pylons; buried houses and water tanks; and a long wooden bridge that was very slippery which eventually led to a Buddhist temple that has been buried up in soil with barely its top windows and spire sticking up to the ground. It kind of reminds me of ancient buried temples that we often see in movies like Indiana Jones or in video games like Tomb Raider; but what sets this temple apart is that its not ancient it was built there only 40 years ago, and it was only 20 years ago since it started to become submerged into the Gulf of Thailand.
In fact according to Dr. Thanawat Jarupongsakul, of the Department of Geology, in Chulanlongkorn University:
The small coastal village of Khun Samutchine, in Samut Prakan province, south of Bangkok is the first community in Thailand, to suffer the direct impacts of coastal erosion caused by climate change. Samut Prakan province has the highest rate of erosion, officially at about 65 metres a year. The 200 households in the ancient settlement of Khun Samutchine has a profitable life living off the sea and enjoyed the bounty of a diverse natural habitat with wetlands, mangrove swamps, marshes, sloughs and estuaries that were home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. Unfortunately due to coastal erosion and advancing sea, most of these areas are degraded, deforested and devastated by the saltwater intrusion. 95 families have already been forced to abandon their coastal homes altogether, according to Samorn Kengsamut, village chief of Khun Samutchine "as most people cannot afford to keep building new houses again and again just to see them washed out to sea a few years later." The remaining 105 families have discovered that they cannot go any further inland without illegally intruding the land owned by other people. The most important landmark shrine for the residents of the Khun Samutchine is a Buddhist temple that was once was located in the forest many kilometers away from the beach front, but today it is claimed by the sea. As it is the community heart and soul, villagers made several attempts to contact various agencies to help and had spent their own money to purchase materials to save the area around the temple from further erosion. Stabilizing and rehabilitating the shoreline is a costly undertaking for villagers at Khun Samutchine. For them, the temple could be protected by constructing breakwaters. Samorn Knegsamut, the village chief pointed out that even the mangrove trees cannot spread their roots because the mud is not deep enough to allow the trees to grow before the wind and wave wash it away.
And as we presented our banners that read "don't drown our future" as a reminder to the delegates at the IPCC meeting it was clear to me that the threat of climate change is not something that we can just shrug our shoulders on and pretend that like its 'business as usual'. Immediate action should be done to curb the uptake of greenhouse gas emissions which causes global warming and while it is all good to talk about adaptation to impacts it is more important to resist the threat from the source which is our continuous dependence on fossil fuel and in the case of Asia: coal, which has brought Thailand communities like Mae Moh, where more than 30,000 people have been displaced from their homes, thousands have experienced severe respiratory problems caused by the inhalation and exposure to sulfur dioxide emitted from the coal mine.
So as we have 'bear witness' it was obvious now that we have moral responsibility to take action according by telling the story of Khun Samutchine and of the plight of its people who are at risk of the dangerous effects of climate change.
This is their story, please pass it on...
Here are some interesting links related to this story
Solar Generation's Aurelie Uricher's account of the island
Don't Drown Our Future by Greenpeace campaigner Abigail Jabines
Photos of the area