Villagers occupy World Bank dam site in Thailand in desperate attempt to protect the “Kingdom of the fish”
April 1, 1993
Angry villagers occupied the construction site of the Pak Mun dam in Thailand March 3 to 6 in a desperate attempt to stop construction and prevent dynamiting of the Kaeng Taad Hua Phu rapids located in one of Thailand’s most famous national parks.
Their occupation is the latest flare-up in the controversy that has plagued the World Bank-funded dam since 1991, when the Bank approved a US$54 million loan to build the dam at a site known as the “Kingdom of the Fish.”
The rapids – created by unusual rock formations – provide an important habitat for fish. Dynamiting the riverbed destroys not only the unusual rock formations, but also the
fisheries and the livelihoods of thousands of villagers. Since dam construction and dynamiting began last year, fish catches have fallen by 90 percent.
EGAT – the electrical utility responsible for building the Pak Mun dam – never told the Thai public, the Mun River villagers, or even park staff that it would be blasting the rapids.
The Pak Mun Dam
The dam on the Mun River – a major tributary of the Mekong – is expected to generate an average of just 34 megawatts of electricity, but will also displace 262 families, change the way of life for thousands more, and flood good rice farmland in the process. The villagers, joined by academics, doctors, and environmental groups, have campaigned against the dam from its inception. Ironically, the World Bank – which promotes itself as the green bank – continues to support the dam, even though the dam is destroying a vital fish habitat, and despite the associated dynamiting of the Kaeng Tana National Park, which is renowned for its unusual geomorphology and archeological ruins.
Police Beat Protesters
After campagning against the dam for over a year with no reaction from the government or the World Bank, the desperate villagers marched on the dam site and occupied it. For 4 days, 500 of them managed to halt dam construction. Their intention was to stay put until the government promised to guarantee protection of the fisheries. They said that if the dynamiting is stopped now the fisheries could be saved: villagers plan to rebuild the rapids and restore the fish habitat by carrying the blasted rocks back into the river.
The government, meanwhile, ignored the villagers demands and called in the police and brutally dispersed the protestors. According to reports in the Thai press, the police injured more than 30 people, including women and children, three seriously.
At last report, about 30 villagers remained camped outside the Thai Parliament demanding that disputes with EGAT be settled by an arbitration panel.
The public outcry over the police brutality at Pak Mun prompted EGAT to finally meet with the villagers and to come to a settlement of sorts. EGAT has apparently agreed to give fair compensation to affected villagers within 30 days, build new houses for villagers displaced by the dam, study the dam’s impact on the fish, and pay for medical expenses if there is an outbreak of worm diseases. While EGAT’s offer sounds like progress, it is not. It is precisely what EGAT was obliged to do when it signed the World Bank loan in 1991. EGAT’s smoke and mirrors tactic substantiates fears that it will not fulfil its promises in the future.
More important, EGAT and the Thai government have yet to meet the fundamental demand of the Mun River villagers to guarantee to protect the villagers fisheries and
livelihoods. All the new houses and fish studies in the world will not save the rapids and the fisheries. Meanwhile, dam construction continues, as does dynamiting a 200-metre-wide channel in the Kaeng Taad Hua Phu rapids located within the boundaries of the national park, in violation of World Bank policy and the Thai National Parks Act.
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