Of course, water doesn’t go to the heart of Thai New Year and the Irish weren’t swigging pints when their patron saint died in 461 AD; that’s just how celebrations have evolved and traditions shifted.
The reality is that Songkran (celebrated April 13-15) now involves launching water at each other like it’s going out of fashion. Well, in a way, it is. Phuket authorities have swung pendulously between implementing area-wide water restrictions and towing the “Drought? What drought? Nothing to see here!” line. Meanwhile reservoirs diminish and residential wells run dry. Looks like it’s up to us, then.
With this in mind, UWC Thailand, The Phuket News and Thanyapura Health & Sport Resort held a workshop on Mar 28 to discuss how Phuket can celebrate Songkran 2019 sustainably and find a balance between honouring Thai traditions and respecting the limitations of the island’s resources.
The event was attended by representatives from the Phuket Hotels Association, HeadStart International School, Phuket Has Been Good to Us Foundation, independent environmental groups and Phuket Provincial Waterworks Authority as well as UWC students, parents and the head of Nanai village.
The room buzzed with ideas from Thai and foreign stakeholders alike. Here’s their top five voted suggestions.
1. Celebrate where the water already is
Make use of the plentiful sources of non-potable water the island holds and is surrounded by. Head to a beach, wade into the big blue and fill your water gun ready for a splash on the sand.
Pool parties are another option, and a slightly more glamorous one if American films are anything to go by.
2. Celebrate in the traditional way with palm watering
Traditionally, Songkran celebrations require very little water, whether it’s poured over Buddha statues or over the palms of elders. Head to a temple, pour water on the monks’ hands and receive blessings from them. Songkran is first and foremost a Buddhist festival, and connecting with that can be rewarding, Buddhist or not.
UWC Thailand have decided to host palm watering and blessings in assemblies in place of water throwing this year. Despite running on wells, not on the ever-emptying municipal reservoirs, they are leading by example, recognising that behaviours translate beyond the school campus.
3. Hold Songkran celebrations away from the streets
There’s much to be said for having a few days off work, and you’ll be forgiven for not wanting to spend it wet through and smeared in white chalk and coloured powder. Relax at home with loved ones, safe from the carnage and chaos.
With the ‘Seven Dangerous Days’ an unfortunate consequence of the festival, staying off the streets isn’t such a bad idea. Celebrate in the garden. Splash your family and friends whilst feeding the grass too. Win-win.
4. Promote water conservation via radio, newspaper, social media and in our neighbourhoods and communities
The BBC recently reported on ‘eco-anxiety’, the feeling of being overwhelmed by the existential challenge of climate change. They suggest turning that fear into action by taking your own affirmative steps – e.g. timing your showers, only washing clothes in full loads, catching rainwater for plants, regularly checking pipes for leaks – and discussing the environment with those around you. So share this article, suggest some of the tips to friends and start discourse.
5. Inform tourists about the water crisis and encourage them to conserve water in Phuket
We might look to the Tourism Authority of Thailand first for this one, but perhaps we have a role to play too. If you’re hosting visiting family and friends, encourage them to use water as they would if their own hometowns were facing a water crisis, especially those visiting for Songkran.
Interestingly, water consumption during Songkran is offset by the fact that factories are closed and people return home. Scaling down the festival alone might not lead to any significant change in reservoir water levels, but it sets a precedent and is an opportunity for education.
Conserving water extends beyond Songkran. It’s important before and it will continue to be so long after.
A final word from the Water Production Supervisor, Mr Uthai Sae-Jiw
“I’m really happy that so many people came to the workshop and that so many people, both Thai and foreign, care.
“I would like to say “Don’t panic.” We’re trying to find a solution. We’re buying water from the private sector to ensure there’s enough to supply to the community. We don’t want to do this long-term as the control and prices then lie with the private sector.
“The weather forecasts that the rainy season starts at the end of May, so we need everyone’s understanding and cooperation to help save water.”