Pai Deetes Named One of Bangkok Post's 66 Young Leaders Shaping Thailand's Future

Kultida Samabuddhi
Friday, August 3, 2012

This article originaly appeared on page 53 of The Bankgok Post 66th Anniversary Supplement.

The challenge of the rivers – Pianporn Deetes

When she was a teenager, Pianporn Deetes told herself that she would never work for a non-governmental organisation because such roles require a lot of devotion in return for low pay. She got this impression from her mother, Tuenjai, a dedicated activist who has spent several decades working with hilltribe people in the North.

But, after learning about conflicts over natural resources and social injustice from prominent scholars at Chiang Mai University, such as Nidhi Eoseewong and Attajak Sattayanurak, Pianporn could not resist following in her mother’s footsteps. Pianporn had often accompanied her mother to remote hilltribe villages and listened to the locals discussing their hardships and their attempts to find a way out of poverty.

After graduation, Pianporn briefly worked for the International Labour Organisation before joining the Chiang Mai-based Living River Siam-Southeast Asia Rivers Network, which focuses on protection of the mainstream Mekong and Salween rivers from the effects of dams.

She made countless trips to remote villages along the Salween and the Mekong to give information about the dam projects to the locals and empower them to protect their rivers, rights and livelihoods. Pianporn was among the first Thai NGOs to study the impacts of Chinese dams on the upper Mekong River in 2002.

Boarding a cargo ship on the way back from China, the young activist, who was 22 at the time, saw stretches of Mekong rapids being blasted out to facilitate navigation for cargo ships. This was apparently done without regard for impacts on the river ecology and people whose livelihoods depend on it. “At that time I thought I would work on this issue for a while in a bid to save the Mekong from these projects,” Pianporn said.

Ten years on, Pianporn is still with an environmental NGO, working to safeguard the Mekong and Salween rivers and riverine communities from destructive projects. Three years ago, she was recruited as the Thailand coordinator for the US-based International Rivers group, which allows her to raise Mekong and Salween issues at international level. Pianporn realised her mission would not be easily achieved as the transboundary rivers are facing new threats and challenges. Pianporn is currently working with locals, civil movements and NGOs in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia to protest against the construction of the controversial Xayaburi dam on the mainstream Mekong River by the Lao government.

Unfortunately, it seems likely the Chinese government will continue to dam the Mekong, while a series of dams on the Salween river is in the pipeline, Pianporn is determined to keep the public educated about the ecological importance of the rivers and to keep pressuring concerned governments to scrap potential harmful dam projects.