Villagers prefer energy-efficient policies

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Bangkok Post 29 October 2007

By APINYA WIPATAYOTIN

Mae Hong Son – Hilltribe villagers who will be adversely affected by the planned construction of a series of dams on the Salween river have called on the government to scrap the projects and adopt their energy-efficient practices in developing a national energy policy. Many hilltribe villages in this northern border province now enjoy similar luxuries to urban communities. The villagers, mostly ethnic Karen, watch satellite TV, listen to the radio and read books at night. However, their electricity is limited to a maximum of six hours a day because the supply from a solar-cell powered generator has limited capacity. The hours, however, are shorter on some days if there is not much sunlight.

However, when asked if they want more electricity supplied to their villages, they say no. Somsri Krunae, the owner of a home-stay service at Tha Ta Fang village in the border district of Mae Sariang, says: "I don't want the electricity to flow all day because it will destroy our traditional way of life. Electricity will bring clubs, bars, resorts and tourists to our peaceful village," she said. Tha Ta Fang villagers are hoping the government and the public will agree with them so they will not have to make a stand against plans to build the hydro-electric dams on the Salween river. Tha Ta Fang village, with a population of about 600, is likely to be submerged if the Thai and Burmese governments give the go-ahead to the construction of the 792-megawatt Dagwin dam, one of six dams planned on the river.

The dam will also inundate more than 3,500 rai of pristine forest in the Salween National Park and forest reserve. Another Karen villager said: "Everybody here knows the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) is determined to build those dams. Egat staff once visited and encouraged us to raise catfish. "Why should we have to raise fish when we can earn more money catching fish in the river now?" he said. The Karen said he and his fellow villagers would not survive if their livelihoods are destroyed by the dams. A two-and-a-half hour boat ride south of Tha Ta Fang is Sob Moei village, which will be affected from construction of the proposed Hutgyi dam, another project in the hydro-electric series of dams which will be 47 kilometres north of the village on Burmese soil.

Sob Moei villagers also rely on solar power. "We are enjoying our life with renewable energy," said Manit Amornphaisuree, a 37-year-old Karen. "It is small-scale power generation, but it suits our needs. "We don't want thousands of megawatts of electricity from those dams, which will destroy our homeland." Pianporn Deetes, of Salween Watch, a coalition of Thai and Burmese activists, said although Sob Moei village was unlikely to be submerged under the dam's reservoir, the villagers' traditional way of life will be completely changed due to ecological changes of the Salween caused by the dams. "The Salween will become a dead river. There will be no fish and the fertile river bank land where villagers grow edible crops will be completely destroyed," she said.