Reducing tension through social cohesion and community security essential says new UNDP film

23 May 2012

BANGKOK – To help reduce social tension, successful interventions must build community security and social cohesion, says a new UNDP Thailand documentary soon to be released in June. The new educational film documents the work of a UNDP project in Mae Hong Son, Thailand’s poorest province.

Mae Hong Son is home to a diverse population and a large number of displaced people from Myanmar. Economic opportunities can be scarce and access to natural resources and basic services are often inadequate. These conditions gave rise to social tensions between the local population and the provincial government, and resentment towards the displaced people receiving support from the international community in nearby temporary shelters.

“Currently the government suggests we do not encroach on the forest. Today the population is increasing. We have to encroach on the forest,” said Mr. Vinai Sornjaroenchai, a local farmer.

Isolated rural villages make their livelihoods from Mae Hong Son’s thick forests and through traditional farming. Community natural resource needs and the government’s aim to protect the remaining forest in Thailand seemed at odds.

However, through an innovative approach developed by UNDP’s Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR), the project improved the relationship between communities and the provincial government, while improving social service delivery, natural resource management and enhancing livelihoods.

The BCPR approach brings together a wide range of actors to identify the causes of insecurity and develop coordinated responses at the community level, and an enabling environment at the national level. It emphasizes participatory assessments, planning and accountability and seeks to improve service delivery, reduce social exclusion, enhance relations between social groups, and strengthen democratic governance. The film, “Building Social Cohesion: The Case of Mae Hong Son,” highlights BCPR’s core principles and how they were effectively employed in the Mae Hong Son context.

“When UNDP discussed these principles with us—as a government agency—we saw that we could put them to good use in areas that would be a good example for the future,” said Mr. Tongchai Wongrienthong, former Governor of Mae Hong Son.

"We talked about how it would help the livelihoods of the people of Mae Hong Son…and it would help conserve natural resources and the environment.”

The results are clear. Although isolation is still a challenge, relationships have improved. “In days past, the villagers of Ban Mae Sapai and the Government basically couldn’t get along. That’s the honest truth. The villagers wanted to encroach on the forest, but were prohibited,” said Mr, Sornjaroenchai.

“But [UNDP] came in and… set out where we could and could not expand our land use. Once that was done, it made it so that the officials were not always on us. It made it so they didn’t disturb us and we didn’t disturb them.