Pattaya needs big clean-up

Once again, Pattaya has been hit by a water pollution crisis. The sight of grimy torrents gushing from a city sewerage pipe into the sea on Jomtien beach has appalled members of the public.

Netizens last week busily shared clips of the murky water turning the sea black. Local authorities have been rushing to find the cause of the problem while warnings have been issued to tourists not to swim in the affected area.

Initial media reports suggest the murky water is untreated discharge that comes directly from the community, and probably some businesses in the area, which is under the jurisdiction of Na Jomtien municipality office.

Yet, the news reports remain sketchy. Some media outlets said there is a water treatment plant that was built at a cost of over 120 million baht but, mysteriously, has never commenced operations.

Junta-installed Pattaya mayor Sonthaya Khunpluem is said to be running around trying to find a temporary solution to the problem. To the surprise of many, the politician was made mayor of the famous beach resort last year after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha used Section 44 to install a man he called a "highly able administrator".

As an immediate solution, Mr Sonthaya ordered the Na Jomtien municipality to syphon some of the dirty water into the Pattaya's general water treatment plant, which has spare capacity at the moment.

Some may laud Mr Sonthaya, a veteran politician, for his decisiveness. He has avoided blaming anybody, saying it's necessary for the parties concerned to work together to find a quick solution. However, he merely told a TV programme host that a pipe has been connected to the water treatment plant and gave assurances that the problem would be dealt with in a few days. But that is not good enough.

The public wants and has the right to know what has happened to a 120-million-baht treatment plant that remains dysfunctional. Photos from several media outlet show the plant has been abandoned. Is this a matter of negligence or corruption?

The blackened sea is just the tip of the pollution iceberg for a world-famous tourist destination that used to make Thailand proud.

In recent decades, Pattaya, once a paradise, has become ruined by uncharted development. It's well known that the city has grown too fast, too quickly. A lack of town planning has made the problem worse as developers greedily scrambled to make full use of areas where land prices have skyrocketed without considering the adverse impacts; in particular, alternating water shortages and floods. It now seems inevitable that, going forward, there will be perpetual water pollution issues just as there have been for the past two years.

The city is also known as a haven for mafia groups, with all kinds of underground crimes and scant law enforcement.

While Mr Sonthaya's efforts deserve recognition, he should not become complacent after making the sea blue again. He must map out long-term solutions to the city's chronic ills. And should he fail, the government must step in to resolve them instead.

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