Thailand overview

Thailand is a mid-level income country with a GDP per capita of US$8,060 (IMF, 2010), making it the second largest economy in Southeast Asia. The country has seen remarkable progress in human development in the last 20 years, and it will probably achieve most, if not all, of its MDGs well in advance of 2015. Decentralisation in the last decade is one of the key factors that has shaped the administrative system, as well as public services including rural water supply. For the past four decades the government has given water supply high priority, with about 90% of the population now having access to safe water – a higher rate of whom are in urban areas.

Administrative set up

The state administrative structure is made up of three systems: central administration (ministries and their departments), local administration (in provinces and districts), and Tambon Administrative Organisations (TAOs) (local autonomy).

Main sector institutions

  • Water resources are administered and managed by eight ministries with different priorities and programmes that sometimes overlap or are in conflict. At the central level the main sector institutions are the Department of Public Works in the Ministry of Interior (MOI), and the Department of Health in the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH). The MOI is responsible for communities with a population over 5,000, and the MOPH is responsible for communities of 1,000-5,000.
  • Piped water in Thailand is currently provided by three agencies, depending on area and population served. Urban areas are served by the two main state enterprises: the Metropolitan Waterworks Authority (MWA), a state enterprise under the MOI for Bangkok and its provinces, and the Provincial Waterworks Authorities (PWAs) for all other cities and towns. The MWA and PWAs both oversee and regulate, as well as provide technical support to TAOs and Village Water Committees.
  • Rural villages and communes with populations under 5,000 are overseen by the TAOs, a local administrative division (on average, one TAO covers 10 villages). The process of decentralization devolved power and responsibility for development planning and management for public services to the local level, the TAO. One hundred and eighty functions were transferred to the TAOs, including responsibility for the physical assets of rural water supply. TAOs have revenue raising powers, a broad range of local government functions (including rural water supply), and are taking on roles in oversight and subcontracting services to private companies.
  • After construction, the systems are transferred to Village Water Committees to continue running the service, with the aim of becoming financially self-sufficient. Village Water Committees are an independent body representing water users. Most comprise of four to six people, including the chief, vice chief, accountant, and system operator/ maintenance person. Many of the Committees work on a voluntary basis, with the exception of the system operator who receives a moderate salary. Village Water Committees and TAOs receive training and technical support from two main ministries: the Department of Water Resources and the Department of Local Administration. However, owing to decentralisation and a change in the budgetary system, technical support from central government is declining.

Service Delivery Models

Thailand has two principal SDMs for rural areas recognised in sector policy:

  1. Community self-supply: by rainwater harvesting and storage in family water jars.
  2. Piped water supply systems: currently piped water is provided by the three main agencies: MWA, PWA and TAOs, with Village Water Committees.

Key issues

Most rural people use at least two water sources: rainwater from jars and tanks, and shallow ground water from tube wells. However, increasing numbers of villages are getting piped connections to PWA systems. This means that a significant number of people have access to three water sources. Self-supply is an important approach and is an accepted part of the solution for rural areas, with institutional support. It is mainly based on water for drinking. CBM and support functions have built-in flexibility for management options from the more simple community management up to full private delegation. It is an institutionalised response to the one-size fits all mentality seen in many countries, and it helps to deal with localised capacity constraints at decentralised levels. However, it is unclear whether and to what extent rainwater harvesting, traditionally practiced in most rural communities, is formally recognised when piped water systems are planned and built in each village and commune.