Mekong Utility Watch

Activists fish for solutions to conflict over Pak Mool dam

The Nation
April 21, 2000

Former prime minister Anand Panyarachun joined activists and academics at the Pak Mool dam yesterday in a bid to seek solutions to a decade-long conflict that symbolised the “destruction of the self -sufficient economy”.

The high-profile visitors were supported by Buddhist monks and villagers in urging society to take a closer look at the problems of people whose natural resources had been taken away from them. They said Pak Mool was just the tip of the iceberg. There were many more people who had been affected by other dam projects.

The people were not born poor, but were pushed into poverty by the country’s free market economic development policy, they said.

It was former premier Anand’s first visit to the Pak Mool dam. He met villagers who have been camped at the dam for more than a year protesting against the destruction of their fisheries. “I am here to see the reality,” he said. “I don’t want to argue about who should be blamed. I would like to find out if the dam meets its goal of electricity generation and if the amount [of electricity] is necessary,” he said.

The gathering at the Pak Mool dam was initiated by Chiang Mai University’s Prof Nithi Eawsriwong. He drew together the country’s leading academics and scholars including Prof Saneh Chammarik, Prof Prawes Wasi, Sulak Sivarak, Prof MR Akin Rapeepatra and Kasien Tejapira.

The construction of the Pak Mool dam was completed in 1994, with an expected electricity generating capacity of 136 megawatts.

However, a study by the World Commission on Dams (WCD) indicated Pak Mool fell short of its expectations; it could produce only 40MW.

The major problem with the Pak Mool dam was its impact on fisheries, the study said. Before the dam was built, tens of thousands of people along the Mool River earned their living from fishing. The dam depleted the once-rich diversity of some 269 fish species. Now only 90 species were found, according to the WCD assessment.

Pak Mool villagers next month plan to seize the dam and demand the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand open the gates to let the river run free in order to restore fisheries.

Kasien Tejapira, of Thammasat University’s political science faculty, said the Pak Mool dam represented a macro picture of the problems of the rural poor that were created by the free-market economy. He said natural resources which were crucial to people’s livelihoods should not be managed by the market economy.

“Otherwise, water [for example] will not flow along the natural rules of gravity, but from those who have less to others with more purchasing power,” he said.

He said when rural people were asked by the government to make sacrifices for the so-called majority, they had to give up their land and water for electricity generation to feed factories producing export goods.

“The decommissioning of the dam is crucial to symbolise that we admit we have walked the wrong path [of development] and that we are willing to set our feet on the new route [to a self sufficient economy],” he said. Many academics agreed poverty in Thailand was a structural problem.

Prawes Wasi said Thai people in general did not have sympathy with the poor, because they had been trained to have discriminatory attitudes towards poor people.

“Those on top of the social structure always justify themselves to take advantage of others in the lower position,” he said.

Kasien said the poor received social attention because they kept fighting and voicing their plights.

“You fight, therefore you are,” he said.

Categories: Mekong Utility Watch

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