Thursday 24 January 2019

THAILAND: Phi Phi Islands Short Of Drinking Water Caused By Many Tourists

It is only natural to cast a backwards glance at the year that was. For travel, the past 12 months have been dominated by one increasingly pertinent problem: overtourism. From urban honeypots such as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Kyoto and beautiful Tung Chung, to tropical hotspots Boracay and Maya Bay, the consequences of unmanaged visits from ever-swelling hordes have become impossible to ignore.

Sadly, it doesn’t look like the issue will have abated as the opening bars of Auld Lang Syne usher in the new year.

During the driest period of the year – from November to April – the island is packed with tourists, causing water demand to rise sharply.

Koh Phi Phi Don – the largest of the Phi Phi Islands, which are also home to ill-fated Maya Bay – is in the grip of a drinking water crisis. Of course, too many thirsty tourists are to blame.

Researchers from Kasetsart University found that freshwater sources on the 9.7 sq km island cannot meet demand from the rising number of visitors, particularly during peak season.

Sitang Pilailar, Kasetsart’s lead researcher, said: During the driest period of the year – from November to April – the island is packed with tourists, causing water demand to rise sharply, and meanwhile there’s no rain to refill the two freshwater ponds that are the only sources for piped water on the island.

Consider that these two limited sources are expected to cater to the thousands of tourists occupying the 205 water-guzzling hotels on Koh Phi Phi Don listed on TripAdvisor and it quickly becomes apparent why the island is struggling to cope.

Local government official Phankam Kittithonkul said that although the issue was not new, it had become too big for local residents to resolve on their own, adding that the 170 million baht (US$5.1 million) administration budget for the island, which is allocated by the central government according to population, did not take visitor numbers into account.

There are thought to be between 2,000 and 3,000 permanent residents on Koh Phi Phi Don; presumably, the island’s freshwater sources are sufficient to provide for their much more modest needs.

So, what can be done by you, the travelling sponge? Well, the easy answer is: stay away. Or, if you are concerned about water scarcity and you should be, at our current rate of consumption, two-thirds of the world population could face shortages by 2025, according to the global conservation body WWF.

Choose to stay in properties that recycle greywater and harvest rainwater – they might not sound sexy, but such undertakings help reduce your impact on the environment.

On that note, maybe don’t indulge in that extra-long shower next time you holiday, something many of us are guilty of doing. On its website, the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) notes: In most countries, water consumption per guest in hotels vastly exceeds that of the local population. Island nations and tourism destinations are often most at risk of water shortages.

In August, ITP, the self-declared voice for social and environmental responsibility in the hotel industry, published the Destination Water Risk Index, which identifies locations in which water risk is highest, in an effort to raise awareness and encourage the implementation of stewardship strategies such as greywater and rainwater recycling at properties in the worst-affected areas.

According to the list, the 12 locations most at risk of water stress are Beijing, Hangzhou, Qingdao and Xian, in China; New Delhi and Mumbai, in India; Bali, Jakarta and Surabaya, in Indonesia; Manila, in the Philippines; Bangkok, in Thailand; and Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.

That’s right, all 12 are in Asia, and while the list is angled towards the hospitality industry, it should not be ignored by those of us who depend on that industry when we travel – so almost all of us, in other words.

Tourism Observer

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