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Let river run free, village leaders say

Bangkok Post
April 21, 2000

“Open the gates and the fish will return” People who lost their land and livelihood to the Pak Moon dam will petition the Electricity Generating Authority next month to halt operations and open the gates to let the river run free. Thongjaroen Sihadham, leader of the villagers, said it would become clear in just a year if fish would return to a free-flowing Moon from the Mekong. Villagers say the dam, at the confluence of the rivers, obstructs fish migration and has decimated stocks and diversity in the Moon, which had fed many provinces in the Northeast. They say the dam, with a capacity to generate 136 megawatts, produces an average of 40 and nothing during the rainy season. Nor does it provide the irrigation benefits that had been promised. Calls for the demolition of the dam were made at the site yesterday as reformers gathered to discuss development projects that work against the interests of ordinary people. Sulak Sivaraksa, the social critic, strongly supported the call to demolish the dam given its failure to meet its initial goals in generation and irrigation. “The villagers want their livelihood back,” he said. Anand Panyarachun, former prime minister, and Prawase Wasi, reform activist, called for dialogue between villagers and the authorities. Mr Anand said the government should put the villagers on an equal footing to consider if the dam had its goals. And if not, it should admit mistakes. Villagers should set aside old grudges and enter into negotiations on the understanding that neither side will emerge fully satisfied. They agreed, however, that the misery of the dam victims testified to the country’s development failure. Pak Moon villagers were among countless rural people made poor by an unequal power structure and mainstream development policies which destroy nature and rural communities to support industrial growth and urban affluence. Discussing the solutions for the poor, Prof Saneh Chamarik urged people’s movements to join forces to push for land reform. Rather than follow state thinking that bases reform on private ownership and chemical farming, he said the goal should be to revive communal ownership, bonding and the ecology. By doing so, villagers can preserve the country’s biodiversity and local knowledge that are essential to survival at the community and national levels, he said. Mr Anand and Prof Prawase urged the governments to switch development strategies from creating wealth to tackling poverty directly. The trickle-down theory had never worked and wealth ended up in the hands of the few. Prof Prawase also urged the media to be more sympathetic to the poor.

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