On the banks of Thailand’s Mun River, villages are struggling to survive in the shadow of the dams

Equal Times

Raiwan Anan-uea, 48, recalls a simple and happy adolescence in the district of Rasi Salai, where a dozen villages shared the abundant resources available in this remote corner of Isan (north-eastern) Thailand. “All year round we could grow rice, beans, cucumbers and potatoes. We could pick bamboo, catch catfish and water snails, cultivate honey, graze cattle, collect firewood and kenaf to make ropes. It was a natural pantry and a pharmacy where we just had to help ourselves. Then life became much harder.”

In the early 1990s, the Thai government initiated a series of 14 water projects on the Chi and Mun, the country’s two longest rivers, including one in Rasi Salai district. Funded by the World Bank, these structures were supposed to generate electricity, improve regulation and irrigation capacities, and create jobs. But Ubon Yoowah, a volunteer advisor at the Rasi Salai Learning Centre set up by local activists in 2010 to help those affected by the dam, says it has been a failure: “Dams are not in the public interest. The construction cost €24 million, or five times the initial budget, not including maintenance. The amount of compensation to be paid to the villagers for the loss of their land is €55 million, half of which has still not been paid. All this and the farmers still do not have enough water. The country is full of examples of poorly designed mega-infrastructure imposed without consultation.”

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