Sirindhorn Dam Affected Communities Still Seeking Justice and Compensation

David J.H. Blake, Guest Blog Writer for International Rivers

In northeastern Thailand's  Isaan region, close to the border with Laos, lies the Sirindhorn Dam, which is operated by Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT). While the dam itself is relatively small - only 42m high with an installed capacity of just 36 MW - the area of water impounded in the reservoir is vast, covering 280 km2. At the time it was constructed over four decades ago, this project required the resettlement of 1,365 households. The reservoir flooded ten schools and eight temples, and 6,880 ha of farmland was permanently lost. The affected families from dozens of small villages in Ubon Ratchatani province, formerly made a living from subsistence farming, fishing in the Lam Dom Noi watershed, hunting and harvesting a vast array of non-timber forest products.

View from the crest of the dam to the powerplant housing three 12 MW turbines. Water is released into the Lam Dom Yai River (a tributary of the Mun River).
View from the crest of the dam to the powerplant, which houses three 12 MW turbines. Water is released from here into the Lam Dom Yai River (a tributary of the Mun River).
David Blake

When the dam was built with the financial support of the Japanese government, the dam affected communities' self-sufficient way of life abruptly ended. They were forced by the state authorities to move into resettlement sites. Between 1969 to 1973, the Thai government reportedly spent a total of 18.8 million Thai Baht for resettlement and compensation, which equates on average to 14,000 baht or approximately US$ 560 per household. Unfortunately, the land in the resettlement villages (known as Nikhom in Thai) has extremely shallow soil that is infertile, making it almost impossible for the households to earn a living. Effectively, most of the resettled villagers became dependent on meagre state welfare provision to survive. Many ended up clearing land plots in upland forested areas of the Lam Dom Noi watershed or moving to Bangkok and living in slum communities where they could scrape together an income on the fringes of the burgeoning city, working as waste pickers, factory labourers or petty traders.

Of the thousands of dam affected people who remained behind in the Nikhom, many became aware of their rights to seek fair compensation and redress from the government, after they joined the Assembly of the Poor (AOP) movement. Becoming part of the AOP meant they were able to join with other communities affected by similar types of destructive development projects, such as the nearby and more infamous Pak Mun Dam. In joining the struggle for recognition of their rights and social justice, the villagers at both dams became more radicalised and prepared to make considerable personal sacrifices seek collective justice.They joined long AOP marches, sit-ins, rallies and petitions to government agencies and politicians over a period of many years, both locally and sometimes in Bangkok.

At the main entrance to Sirindhorn Dam, a protest banner denounces a proposed nuclear power station, claiming it will further destroy livelihoods of local dam-affected people.
At the main entrance to Sirindhorn Dam, a protest banner denounces a proposed nuclear power station, claiming it will further destroy livelihoods of people already impacted by the dam and it's reservoir.
David Blake

During a recent visit to the Sirindhorn Dam, I encountered a protest encampment of affected families (numbering up to several hundred), situated directly opposite the main entrance to the dam. The villagers camped out are demanding the state provide each household with 15 rai (2.4 ha) of good agricultural land and some financial compensation for lost livelihoods stretching back over 40 years to when the dam was built. They claim that the government has repeatedly ignored their demands and been selective in only partially compensating some affected households, but not others. In addition, the protesters are concerned that EGAT has plans to build a nuclear power station on forest land still relied upon by villagers situated below the dam, which they see as a further threat to local livelihoods and the natural environment. They are both vocal and visual in their demands to scrap the nuclear power plant plan and provide fair compensation for those people impoverished by the dam. However, to date, there has been very little national media coverage of their concerns. Despite the lack of profile given to their decades of struggle, their demands to hold the dam developers accountable for damages done and their tireless mobilizations to seek compensation serves as a potential warning in the current context of rising regional tensions over damming the Mekong mainstream and its tributaries.

Sunday, April 14, 2013