เครือข่ายเกษตรกรรมทางเลือกภาคอีสาน

Pak Mun Dam Update

In In Solidarity, Our Network on 28/02/2011 at 10:26 pm

As part of a network of social and environmental movements in Esan, the AAN is always in close communication other groups of farmers, fisherfolk and urban communities.  The Pak Mun struggle continues today, as the government is finally entertaining a debate about decommissioning the dam.  Pak Mun protesters have become increasingly active in Ubon Ratchatani, with recent protests at City Hall organized by the Assembly of the Poor (AOP).  Sompong Vienchan was even recently interviewed and here is a recent editorial from the Bangkok Post:

Bangkok Post February 25, 2011

When you make a mistake, you accept it and apologise, make amends and stop repeating the same error without end. That is what civilised people do, and there can be no reason why Thailand’s governments should flout this golden rule.

But after 20 years of having subjected thousands of families to misery by destroying their sources of livelihood and way of life, today’s government continues to use the same foot-dragging tactics of governments past when faced with the need to decommission the economically and environmentally disastrous Pak Moon dam.

First, the government told Pak Moon villagers in Ubon Ratchathani that it needed to set up another committee to study the impacts of the dam even though every single aspect of the dam has been thoroughly explored these past two decades! But the villagers complied because the government had promised them it would follow the recommendations from the latest Pak Moon Dam committee. And it came as no surprise that the committee, chaired by Nualnoi Treerat, an economics lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, voiced similar findings and recommendations as other previous research agencies, both international and domestic. Here’s why.

Built at the confluence of the Mekong and Moon rivers by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand and completed in 1994, the 6.5-billion-baht dam has been a total failure right from the start. It can produce only 21 MW of electricity, or just 15% of its 135 MW target. Far more villagers were displaced and affected than initially estimated. The dam has blocked fish migration from the Mekong and destroyed the rapids which are fish habitats and breeding grounds, resulting in the drastic decline of fish from 256 to 96 species.

The impact on fresh water fishing communities along the Moon River has been disastrous. Research shows they have lost nearly 60 million baht per year from declining fish yields. Meanwhile, the irrigation and fishery benefits from the reservoir have been negligible. Poverty, hunger, the breakdown of families and communities have ensued. When there was no more hope in the home villages, migration at Pak Moon rose from 14% before the dam to 63% after its construction.

In 2001, the Thaksin administration allowed the sluice gates to be opened for one year to temporarily appease the villagers’ grievances. A study committee was also set up as a time-buying tactic. Following positive results on the ecological health and villagers’ livelihoods, the committee recommended extending the opening of the gates to five years. This was shunned by the Thaksin government for fear of slighting Egat, the country’s energy giant.

The Nualnoi committee gave the Abhisit government the same recommendation: Opening the sluice gate for a trial period of five years before making any decisions on decommissioning the dam. The villagers were full of high hopes when the proposal was tabled at the cabinet meeting earlier this week. Their hopes were deflated when the proposal was sent back for further study on the possible negative impact on the irrigation system. This is ridiculous, to say the least.

All studies have shown that claimed irrigation benefits from the dam were exaggerated. And irrigation was never the main purpose in the first place. This is just a foot-dragging tactic. The Democrat-led government should realise that saving Egat’s face at the expense of keeping its promise to the people who have been wronged, will cost it dearly when voting time comes.

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