Ubon residents call for Mekong dam to be scrapped

The Nation 15 December 2009

By Supalak Ganjanakhundee

Local residents in Ubon Ratchathani called on the government yesterday to end a deal with Laos to build the Ban Koum "mega-dam" on the Mekong River due to its likely serious social and environmental impact.

Some 500 people in areas that would be affected by the dam held a holy ceremony at Samphan bok (three thousand holes) on the bank of the river to ask the spirit of the river and Naga (Mekong dragon) to help to protect lives in the river.

A group of senators, including Prasarn Marukpitak and Kamnoon Sidhisamarn, attended the ceremony. They promised the villagers they would help pressure the government to stop the project.

Thailand and Laos signed a memorandum of understanding in March 2008 to jointly develop a 1,872-megawatt hydropower dam on the mainstream of the Mekong. Italian-Thai and Asiacorp Holding companies were granted permission to conduct a feasibility study.

People in at least 239 homes in four villages on both banks of the Mekong in Thailand and Laos would be directly affected by flooding if the dam was built. But the constructors would build a huge wall to contain water from its reservoir so no local residents would need to be relocated from the area.

However, most of people in the areas fear the dam would have a negative effect on the environment and ecology of the Mekong and would damage fishing, which is their main source of food.

Sangwarn Bounnoi, from Ban Songkhorn in Pochai district, said villagers would not allow the government to build the dam because it would damage their lives.

"Compensation would never cover losses from the dam," she said, adding that relatives who were affected by Pak Moon Dam in Ubon Ratchathani were still unable to recover losses decades after the dam was built.

Ku Saenpaiwan, from Ban Kantakwean in Khong Chiem district, said he feared losing fishery resources if the dam was built. It could prevent many species of fish from moving up and downstream and would, thus, cause a loss of protein in the locals' diets, he said.

"My family and my village mostly rely on fishing. I'm not sure who can guarantee that this source of food would be sustained after the dam," he said.