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True lies?

May 2, 2000

The Pak Moon Dam seems to evoke different images to different people, depending on where they stand.

On one side of the concrete structure is plenty of water, but very scant sign of marine life. On the other side, the level of water is drastically low, but from time to time one can spot people fishing even though the catch often turns out to be barely enough for a simple meal.

The stark differences also apply to debate between the two camps.

The Thai authorities and the World Bank, the main source of funding for the project, have hailed the Pak Moon dam as a big success.

Northeastern villagers, however, have long held grudges against the project, which they say has destroyed the ecology of the Moon river as well as the locals’ age-old way of life.

The World Commission on Dams, an independent international organisation set up to address controversial issues surrounding large dams, recently released a summary of its evaluation of the Pak Moon Dam project. Here are the commission’s main findings.


From the original $135 million (5.13 billion baht) plus $11 million (418 million baht) for environmental and social mitigation, the budget eventually ballooned to $233 million (8.85 billion baht) and $32 million (1.22 billion baht) for mitigation programmes.


The 136 Megawatt target has not been realised. The WCD found the actual output to be about 40 MW for April and May, during which both demand and capacity for power are at their highest.

The WCD estimated the dam’s economic return, called its Economic Internal Rate of Return (EIRR), to be about 4 to 5 percent, well below the original estimate of 12 percent.


The WCD estimates the dam has caused the loss of 60 to 80 percent of the fish in the reservoir and the river upstream of the dam. Of 265 species found in the Moon river before 1994, the WCD counted only 96 species upstream of the dam.

The dam advocates originally predicted its reservoir area would produce 100 kilogrammes per hectare per year of fish without stocking, or 220 kg/ha/year in conjunction with a stocking programme.

In contrast, the actual fish yield is about 10 kg/ha/year. In the reservoir itself, yields are slightly better, ranging from 19 to 38 kg/ha/year.


The original plan claimed that only 241 households in 11 villages would be affected. Altogether, however, 1,700 families have lost their house, land, or both. These households also claimed compensation for lost fishing income due to the dam’s unexpected impact on local fisheries.


Egat projected the Pak Moon dam would provide irrigation services to a total area of 25,900 hectares, but the WCD found that so far, these claims have not been fulfilled.


More than 50 natural rapids, in which fish spawn, have been permanently submerged due to the construction of the dam.


The commission found that the dam led to the loss of river bank vegetation as well as natural and community forests. At least 40 edible plants, 10 bamboo species, and 45 species of mushroom have been wiped out.


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