From the Muddy Banks of the Mae Kha
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Cities have historically developed near water bodies. The increasing prevalence urban space has had a marked effect on the ecology of urban waterways. Many rapidly urbanizing areas experience a growth in informal housing often located on environmentally fragile land. These communities of urban poor are often unjustly blamed for the degradation of the environment, while carrying the largest burden of said degradation. Processes of urbanization in Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand, have been accompanied by a decrease in air and water quality. This thesis researches the human-environment interactions between the city and the urban canals in Chiang Mai, Thailand? An environmental justice approach is applied to this study looking at how the environmental ills, recognition, and capability to participate in the management of the canal differ between different stakeholder groups. The research is based on water quality tests in 10 sites in July, September and November, and interviews with 52 stakeholders from the business, chuchom, governmental and not-for-profits sectors. Water quality tests indicated the canals to be severely degraded, with the lowest water quality measured in July. However, no significant differences were found in the water quality between sites. Notwithstanding, chumchon experienced more disamenities including flooding and health impacts. The tourist area benefited from water infrastructure, with lower levels of flooding. A top-down management of the canals is centered on the national government. This restricts the capabilities available to local stakeholder to affect the present situation. Any long term solution to the state of the canals would need to recognize both the root causes of environmental degradation and informal housing. While there are no easy solutions, a participatory approach including all stakeholders is likely to be an important part of it.