EARTH Thailand

Thirst hits Map Ta Phut

Bangkok Post 01 July 2010 | Nareerat Wiriyapong

Poor water supply threatens investment

RAYONG : Legal uncertainties surrounding regulations of industrial projects at Map Ta Phut should be cleared up within two weeks, but inadequate water supply poses a new threat to local operators and future investments in the area, says Industry Minister Chaiwuti Bannawat.

Of the 76 industrial projects ordered by the court last September to halt operations, 36 remain suspended.

Seven projects have been identified as harmful activities that need to undergo more stringent environmental and heath impact assessments (EIA and HIA).

The list of harmful industries is expected to be released in two weeks. There might be 18 industries on the list, as proposed by a special review panel, or fewer than that, said Mr Chaiwuti as he met industrial operators in Map Ta Phut yesterday.

"We intend to allow all suspended projects to resume operations by the end of the year or early next year at the latest," he said.

Mr Chaiwuti, in his first visit to Map Ta Phut since he took office three weeks ago, raised concerns about the potential water shortage in the area.

Investors are expected to return to Map Ta Phut after the panel headed by former prime minister Anand Panyarachun lays down guidelines for complying with the 2007 Constitution including HIAs, EIAs, public hearings and the establishment of an independent environmental advisory body.

"We expect investments to rebound in the latter half of this year with the Thai economic recovery and the government's sincerity in tackling problems at Map Ta Phut," said Mr Chaiwuti. "But all this will be a failure if industrial operators face a water shortage and have to stop production.

"We need to prepare for this threat right now."

The Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT) said that about 400,000 cubic metres of water were consumed daily in the Map Ta Phut area, half in the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate and the balance in four nearby estates.

There was a severe water shortage in 2005 and now another threat is looming in an area where supply has been monopolised by SET-listed Eastern Water Resources Development and Management Plc, said IEAT governor Monta Pranutnorrapan.

The agency studied some possible solutions, including drawing water from Chanthaburi, a neighbouring province that experiences floods in most years. The project, worth 2 billion baht, would need three years to develop, she said.

Affected companies in Map Ta Phut asked the ministry to accelerate resolving the remaining hurdles to allow operations to continue and restore the image of the area.

"We want the government to quickly list the harmful activities and protect projects facing complaints by NGOs," said Bowon Vongsinudom, senior executive vice-president of PTT Aromatics and Refining Plc and chairman of the Map Ta Phut Plant Managers Club.

The competitive edge of placing a petrochemical project in Map Ta Phut is now smaller compared with projects in neighbouring countries such as Singapore, he said.

Ashok Upadhya, an assistant vice-president of Indorama Ventures Plc, called on the government to speed up the process of conducting EIAs and HIAs, which normally take about a year to complete.

"We want to expand our production in Map Ta Phut but we have not seen any significant changes by the government in dealing with problems that would make us feel confident to invest again," he said.