Voices from the Margin: Lampaniang River

Jackie Fan, Ellie Jones, Jill Lambiase, Caitlin Ryan, ESCR Mobilization Project
Monday, December 8, 2008

In the past, villagers living along the Lampaniang River relied on its resources, accessing the river for food. Villagers depended on the natural flooding of the river and traditional irrigation methods to restore and irrigate their rice fields. Fish and plants found on the banks of the river supplemented their diet. Whenever the villagers needed water for consumption or for their livestock, they would go to the river and take what was needed. The river was a free source of sustenance for the villagers and a vital resource which made their livelihoods possible. The dredging of the Lampaniang River first appeared to be a modest affair that would benefit those who depended on the river. Taking a few meters from the riverbed would purportedly allow the river to hold more water and reduce annual flooding. In reality, the dredging project caused more extreme and prolonged flooding, and although it increased the river’s capacity to hold water, villagers were no longer able to access that water. Steep banks, severe erosion, and greater input costs from irrigation pumps make it impossible for villagers to rely on the river as an affordable source of sustenance.

Villagers dependent on the Lampaniang were not told honestly or accurately of the effects dredging would cause. Uninformed and unable to fully comprehend a system in which the use of the river’s resources would come at a high cost, villagers lost the river, and with the river, their land and livelihood. In a claim to protect their rights, villagers submitted the violations to the courts, a strategy not often used by grassroots movements in Thailand. The Supreme Administrative Court made a historic ruling against the government in mid-November 2008, affirming villagers’ right to their land despite the government’s defense that it had warned villagers of the project’s negative effects. The case is a triumph for villagers in Lampaniang and in other parts of Thailand, because it sets a precedent for similar future cases to be brought to the legal court system. Although the court’s ruling to compensate villagers for lost land is a step towards realizing the effects of large-scale projects, the government has still not developed a legal consciousness for economic, social, and cultural rights. Steps taken so far have not been so comprehensive as to restore villagers’ livelihoods, nor safeguard their way of life in the future.

Dredging by the government intensified flooding and caused large-scale crop failure, affecting over 5,000 rai and 1,000 households’ sources of food and livelihood. It is suspected that nearly 4,000 villagers in the region have directly suffered adverse effects due to the dredging of the Lampaniang River, and hundreds more may have been indirectly impacted.

Farmers along the Lampaniang River who once had stable livelihoods now find it impossible to provide adequate food, water, and income for their families. Due to physical destruction of land and traditional irrigation systems, exacerbated flooding conditions, and alteration of the river’s ecosystem, farming is no longer a sustainable occupation and water is no longer physically or economically accessible. Despite the government’s claim that it shared information about the Lampaniang Development Project, findings show that the information given out was misleading or incorrect. Therefore, this report finds that the State did not follow established guidelines set out in the General Comments of the ICESCR with respect to the right of villagers to water, food, and work, and that villagers were not informed or fairly compensated.