Mekong Utility Watch

World Bank visits Pak Mun dam site – Villagers reject Bank’s offer of development

February 5, 2000

Last Monday, 31 January 2000, World Bank Thai Country Director, Mr. J. Shivakumar, together with representatives from the World Bank’s Thailand Country Department, visited Mae Mun Man Yuen 1, the protest village established at the Pak Mun dam site.  Several hundred villagers gathered to hear Mr. Shivakumar speak and to tell him about the problems they have experienced as a result of the dam. Mr. Shivakumar told the villagers that the World Bank would “do our best to study as much as we can and find a solution.” He said “we have come here as your friend and we owe it to you to help you achieve a better life”.

Many village leaders spoke passionately to Mr. Shivakumar, telling him of loss of fisheries, poor resettlement, and inadequate compensation. Time and again, the villagers stated that the only solution they could see to their problems was for the dam to be removed. They told Mr. Shivakumar that they were prepared to fight until their fisheries were restored.

After hearing the testimony, Mr. Shivakumar stated that he felt that he was now a part of their family. However, he stated that “going back to the past may not be a better way to deal with the future.” He asked them to consider more options than just removing the dam, and suggested that development implied moving forward, not backwards. He said that the World Bank would study why the villagers were unhappy, why they have come here and how to make their lives better. He said the Bank could share this information with government and make suggestions, but the Bank could not force to the government to do anything, and would not work to support the villager’s demands for dam removal.

The villagers then took Mr. Shivakumar on a tour of affected villages. It was clear that the solution the World Bank had in mind was to bring “development” to the area, through such tried and failed schemes as fish ponds, water supply projects, and income generation schemes such as eucalyptus plantations. Villagers felt that the Bank was not sincere in listening to, and understanding, their problems. Villagers did not trust the Bank’s empty promises of development, having already experienced the brunt of the development process over the past ten years.

Mr. Thongcharoen Srihadhamma, a villager leader from Pak Mun, says that “the World Bank tried to say that they were part of our family. But when we discussed the problems that have resulted from the dam, it was clear that we were not part of the same family because they would not listen to us. They tried to persuade us to accept their development plan. But we feel that the World Bank is still approaching this problem in the wrong way. They want to proceed with the development, with projects like fish ponds, that were tried and proven to fail in the past, and which the Bank wants to reinstate. They also want to develop eucalyptus plantations, which proves that they are only concerned with development, because the villagers in this area have been strongly opposed to these plantations for over 10 years.”

Mr. Thongcharoen added, “we felt very bad when the WB told us to forget about the past and look toward to the future. We only want removal of the dam, we want to restore the Mun River and return to the way of life that we once had. The river and the fisheries are the future of all these villagers, and the Bank is telling us to forget about that.”

A day after the visit, the Thai country office called advisors to Assembly of the Poor and said that the Bank would like the villagers to send a list of representatives, plus trusted academics, to be part of a committee for a new development program.

The villagers and advisors resolved to reject the World Bank’s offer of assistance, seeing it as a veiled attempt to silence their protests and their demands for restoration of the Mun River.

Another reason for the villagers decision to reject the WB’s offer is that, after consulting with various NGOs in Northeast Thailand, we found that the Bank had also contacted them and offered to supply funds to villager organizations to help alleviate the poverty in rural villages. During their visit at Pak Mun, the WB officials seemed very concerned with finding solutions to the problems of Pak Mun villagers. But once they returned to Bangkok, they requested that the villagers send a list of representatives from every dam within Assembly of the Poor, and WB revealed that they would try to solve the problems of villagers from every dam, even those which were not financially supported by the Bank.

So it is clear that the WB program is not solely focused on the problems at Pak Mun, and that they were not honest with the Pak Mun villagers because they concealed this information about helping rural communities in NE Thailand.

Moreover, even though we don’t know where the money will come from for this program, the World Bank has claimed several times, to NGOs and villagers, that the Thai government has a fund of 1.2 billion baht to solve the problems of villagers affected by the dams, but that no villagers stepped forward to claim this money. This is not true. Because, in reality this fund was only created to compensate people affected by Sirindhorn dam, not for general dams. The Chavalit government did approve 1.2 billion baht for the 2,526 families affected by Sirindhorn dam in 1997. However, in 1998 the Chuan government cancelled this agreement with a new Cabinet resolution stating that “no money would be paid to be people affected by dams built in the past.”

Mr. Preeda Dechakampoo, a village leader from Sirindhorn dam, states that “The people affected by Sirindhorn dam are still demanding compensation for their losses. The truth is that there is no compensation money for these people. Another important note is, if the government and WB distributed the money alotted for the people of Sirindhorn dam to other areas, the affected people and Assembly of the Poor would have a strong opposition.”

Finally, the villagers have resolved to continue to fight for the removal of the dam, which is the only solution they can see to their problems. They do not want compensation. They call on the World Bank to:

1. Take responsibility for the destruction it has caused to the lives of Mun River villagers, and the ecology and fisheries of the Mun River, acknowledge mistakes and respect their demands.

2. Work with the Thai government to decommission Pak Mun and restore the Mun River.

Restore the Mun River! Remove the dams!

Categories: Mekong Utility Watch

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