U.N. honors Thai villagers who saved northern wetlands

The United Nations will bestow an award on villagers in northern Thailand who saved precious wetlands by organizing, launching social media campaigns, and ultimately reversing development plans that would have filled in the marshes.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will award its Equator Prize to the villagers of Boon Rueang in the Chiang Kong district of northern Chiang Rai province for “outstanding community efforts to reduce poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.”

In 2010, the villagers formed the Boon Rueang Wetland Conservation Group when they learned that a development project was scheduled to change their community’s marshlands. The wetlands provide them with fish and firewood and act as a buffer, defending them from floods that inundated other villages.

“If it were not for the wetland, our village would have also been flooded severely,” said Srongpol Chantharueang, Chairman of the conservation group. “We realized then how important it was for us. That made us more aware of the threats to the wetland, and more determined to protect it.”

The villagers reached out to other conservation groups and local universities. They appealed to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, saying their lives and livelihoods were at stake. Learning from others, they launched advocacy and social media campaigns to build support for their cause.

To even their own surprise, their campaigns met with success. In 2018, the development project was canceled.

“Activism and knowledge are key to conserving natural resources. We have to educate the community that they have a constitutional right to participate in natural resource management,” said Niwat Roikaew, Head of the Chiang Khong (District) Conservation Group.

Photo courtesy of http://www.ingcouncil.org/index.php/hidemenu-sez/8-boonroung-wetland