Villagers not happy with planned dam

Bangkok Post 3 October 2009

Ban Kum fears same fate as Pak Moon


UBON RATCHATHANI : Villagers living near the proposed Ban Kum dam in Khong Chiam district's Ban Song Kon fear they will suffer a similar fate to residents affected by the Pak Moon dam.

The 1,870-megawatt Ban Kum hydropower dam, a joint project between Thailand and Laos, will be built on the Mekong river border between Ban Ta Long in Khong Chiam and Champassak province in Laos, and two private firms have been endorsed by both governments to conduct a feasibility study into its construction.

But locals are already expressing concern over the project.

"Things will never be the same if the river's current changes. We are going to repeat the misfortunes of the Pak Moon community, whose livelihoods have been destroyed by the dam there," said Anan Somsri, 50, a villager at Ban Song Kon in Khong Chiam.

Pak Moon's construction was completed in 1994 amid a five-year-long protest. Tens of thousands of residents claim their livelihoods - mainly fishing activities in the Moon river - have been harmed or destroyed since it came into operation.

Mr Anan, whose income depends on fishing in the Mekong, expressed concern over the planned construction of the Ban Kum dam, saying that he was afraid that local knowledge of fishing in the area would be rendered useless.

"It is not within our means to follow the [Isan] tradition of catching fish in a floating basket, because we cannot afford the high cost of fish feed," he said.

"Using our own traditional fishing methods, we can earn more than 30,000 baht in some months," he said.

An hour's drive south of Ban Song Kon is Ban Ta Mui village in the same district. The community is a popular tourist destination due to the annual spectacle of Naga fireballs rising from the Mekong.

This phenomenon brings much-needed income to the locals. The government this year also promised to replace the existing village dirt road with a paved one.

But the residents are worried the new dam might affect or even bring an end to the event, as its cause is not understood.

"Who can guarantee that the Naga fireballs will still be spewing after the dam is constructed? No fireballs would mean no visitors," said Maneewan Panyasu, a 65 year-old Ban Ta Mui villager.

Italian-Thai Development Plc and the Asiacorp Holding Ltd have been contracted for the feasibility study.

An academic who asked not to be named said the dam is likely to generate only 20% of its projected energy since the Mekong would be unable to provide enough water to power the generator's turbines all year round as its flow changes by the season.

Preuk Taotawin, a lecturer in liberal arts at Ubon Rajathanee University who is closely monitoring the dam project, has predicted that more than 13,800 rai of fertile land along the river would be lost if the dam is built.

"The cost of planting crops is now very low. Farmers need only buy seeds, with no need for fertilisers or pesticides. But this good fortune will disappear with the dam's construction," he said.

A source at the Energy Ministry said an initial study had shown that the dam is worthy of investment. But the ministry has not yet received any instructions from the government to get involved in the project.