Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
A local field trip of Rotary Peace Fellows batch 14th brought me to the controversial Pak Moon dam in Ubon Ratchathani province, Thailand. During this visit, it has broadened my new perspectives in many ways, especially on how local Thai people view the benefits of Pak Moon dam very different from those of researchers and scientists. This helped me deeper my understanding the 2-side of problems. Allow me to share with you some of my observations.
First of all, I am very impressed by the never give up spirit of the local people living downstream of Pak Moon dam. They have been negotiating and fighting with the Thai government for almost 24 years to ask for the opening of the sluice gate all year round or to decommission the dam permanently in making ways for fish to migrate to/from the Mekong river. The Moon river once used to be the main source of fish supply to local people, has undergone major changes in the last few decades after dam construction. The small number of fishes caught in the river forced many young people to leave their villages, and head to big cities. Asking if there are any positive changes they observed in their community after the dam was built, and the answer I received was “None”. This surprised me very much. I then started to question myself, why was many local people so concerned about the fishes when there are hundred of alternative jobs they can engage. I then realized what local people here need is not a “development” but “Sustainable living”. Fish means happiness to them, and these answers touch deep into my heart. Now, I understand how life is linked to the environment and basic needs.
Fish ladder of Pak Moon Dam
The next day, I had a chance to listen to the explanation of researchers and scientists from Ubon Rachathani University in regards to the management of Pak Moon dam. As I myself is also a researcher, I was not so surprised with the answers I got from them. The Pak Moon dam is a multi-purpose dam, which mean its function is not only for electricity generation, but also supply water resources through irrigation to agricultural lands, and to keep water resources to be used during dry season. Many local people living upstream of the dam are in favor of having dam, because it helps them to increase their agricultural production. I personally believe that there are many good benefits from the dam development, but at the same time, it also has many adverse impacts to the ecology of river system and people livelihood. The researchers and scientists should dare to raise those issues to the public, so that the issues will be raised, and mitigation is proposed accordingly.
“No Dam” message on the wall of Pak Moon Dam
Looking back to the fast paced development of dam in my country, I could not help, but to think, how much dam development in Laos is considered too much. The government plans to turn Laos into batteries of ASEAN, and many rivers in Laos are now under investigation for dam development project. I know that we always gain one and lose one from the development project, but can we make it fair or close to the fairness for everyone? Development is sometimes what we want, but will that last for long and benefit our future generation? That is a question we need to think about carefully.
Bounheng Southichak, Laos
Rotary Peace Fellow
January 2013 Session