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Lamphun - a leader in waste management in norhtern Thailand.

The city of Lamphun, pronounced "Lumpoon", has just completed a two-year long integrated urban environmental management plan in tandem with its twin cities in the European Union: Sorgues in France, and Wettenberg in Germany. The result of the programme, according to a visiting environmental expert from Germany - -"Lumphun has improved its waste management expertise, environmental education and awareness skills by as much as ten years, in just 24 months!"

Photo of project participants

Professor Werner Bidlingmaier, a leading authority in waste management from the Bauhaus University in Weimar, describes the Lamphun project as a resounding success; and he is well qualified to make such a statement. The eminent Dr. Bidlingmaier: is the author of 129 publications, including six scientific books, is involved in teaching and waste management projects in 28 countries, is in possession of a most impressive list of academic qualifications, and a widely-recognised expert in sewage engineering, water supply engineering, microbiology, and waste management.

The Lumphun project got underway two years ago, after the Mayor and the city fathers approached their counterparts in France and Germany. A budget was then granted by the European Union, under the Asia-Urbs programme, covering 70% of all costs incurred in the two-year operation. The Asia Urbs programme operates under the auspices of the Europe Aid Cooperation office in Brussels; an office set up just five years ago with a mission to implement the external aid instruments of the European Commission, funded by the European Community budget, and the European Development Fund.

Working groups were set up in Lumphun to study a list of issues: water management, wastewater management, municipal waste management, energy, transport, education, information, and so on. Local officials and the public at large worked with a verve that suggested an impending royal visit. Waste disappeared to proper sites. The open burning of waste products was banned.

Environmental education was taught in schools, while students and officials visited Lamphun's twin cities in Germany and France, to see at first hand how environmental problems are handled there.

The city's working groups met weekly to discuss progress, plan ahead, and to keep the public informed of their activities. Water management and supply was studied, and a proper pipeline system installed. Workers have begun wearing industrial safety clothes. Large, colourful waste bins appeared on the city streets bearing stickers advising the public of the need to separate different waste products in separate bins.

Training courses were held in schools, laboratories, and in public halls, educating the people of Lamphun in the methods to be employed in cleaning up the city's environment. Mrs Thippawan Khamsuk, a teacher from Sanpayangluang School, was given the task of teaching environmental studies to almost 900 students who attended her special courses.

Visiting experts, Professors Werner Bidlingmaier, and Herman Stamm made regular trips to the city while commuting between other projects in the region. In their absence, the role of expert adviser fell squarely on the shoulders of Dr. Suraphong Wattanachira from Chiang Mai University's Department of Environmental Engineering.

Dr. Suraphong modestly describes his work as" being in the background"; not a view shared by Professor Bidlingmaier - "Without the guidance of Dr. Suraphong, this project could never have progressed so successfully," he says. Dr. Suraphong points out that despite visits by officials and students to Europe and Japan, the Lamphun project is no mere copy of what they found while abroad. "There are fundamentally different conditions in other countries," he explains. "While such visits are most instructive, and the major environmental issues are addressed in much the same way worldwide, Thailand has its very own problems to solve in its own way," he says. The open burning of waste, along with vehicle exhaust fumes, have for too long brought a blanket of pollution over many parts of the country. Lamphun is addressing that problem in the most energetic and practical way.

Attending the closing ceremony of the project were no fewer than fifty town and city mayors from around the country. Professor Bidlingmaier tells me there are already discussions underway for a similar project in Chiang Rai. Why, I wonder, is Chiang Mai losing out in the purification of Northern Thailand? The simple answer is that the "Rose of the North" does not have a twin city in the European Union, or anywhere else. The "twinning" of cities has long been established in western countries, and there is no limit to the number of twins any one city can have! Glasgow in Scotland is twinned no fewer than five cities across the world: Dalian in China, the Cuban capital of Havana, Nuremberg in Germany, Turin in Italy, and Rostov-on-Don in Russia. City twinning is a concept where towns or cities from geographically and politically distinct areas are paired, with the goal of fostering human contact and cultural links. The European Union grant for the Lumphun project came to around 23 million baht.

As the old saying goes "Where there's muck there's brass." Or if you like: Where there are dirty jobs to be done, there is money to be made.

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