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Lam Ta Khong Pump Storage Project

What is the Lam Ta Khong Pump Storage Project?

Construction site

Khao Yai Tiang is situated in Nakhon Ratchasima Province (commonly called "Khorat"). It is a hilly area near the Lam Ta Khong reservoir, which was built on the Lam Ta Khong River, a tributary of the Mun River. Khorat is also the source of the Mun River, which is the largest tributary of the Mekong. It is one of the provinces of Northeast Thailand, but it is also an important center of land transport, three hours' drive from the capital, Bangkok. The villages of North and South Khao Yai Tiang in Si Khiu district are quiet farming villages in the center of Khao Yai Tiang. The villagers take advantage of the cool mountain climate to make a living from fruit trees and dairy cattle.

The First Pump Storage Power Station in Thailand

Thailand's first pump storage power station is being built at the peak of Khao Yai Tiang, above nearby villages. The project was appraised by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and financed with US$100 million (World Bank) and \18.242 billion from Japan's Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund (OECF, now the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, JBIC). The construction was supervised by Japan's Electric Power Development Company Ltd., and companies from many countries, including France and Portugal, were also involved.

The power station, which is of the pump storage type, generates 1,000MW. It uses the vertical distance of 370m between the upper reservoir, built on the high ground, and the lower reservoir. The existing Lam Ta Khong reservoir was used as the lower pond, which is needed for a pump storage power station. This project constructed the upper pond, power tunnels, power plant and other facilities.

What problems has the project caused?

The construction site is in an area designated as a restricted development zone by the Thai government. Therefore the power tunnels, power plant, and other elements were built underground out of concern for the environment and its scenic beauty. Only the upper pond is exposed. However, despite this project's supposed environmental sensitivity, the construction of the upper pond has had devastating impacts on the lives of the people of the area.

The construction of the upper pond involved blasting almost every day for two years and seven months, from the end of 1995. It showered dust down onto the villages of North and South Khao Yai Tiang, on the mountainsides of Si Khiu district. Residents say that explosions were set off twice daily, at 11:30 and 18:00, throwing dust high into the air. If the wind was in the wrong direction, it fell straight onto the villages, sometimes reducing visibility to zero.

During the construction period, the dust left the trees fruitless and vegetables withered. Livestock died from drinking dusty water. Cattle, terrified by the noise of the explosions, gave no milk. No effective action was taken to prevent these and other losses. From around that time, the villagers began to suffer a dramatic increase in the incidence of asthma-like coughing, respiratory distress and rashes over the whole body. Cases of sudden death from unknown causes have also been reported. Other problems included retarded development among children born during the construction period, and water supplies drying up due to diversion of aquifers. The residents of these two villages, who depend on farming for their livelihoods, were hard hit.

The residents are now participating in a regional development program financed by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT). This program includes occupational training as a regional development program. However, residents say their lack of familiarity with their new enterprises and the severity of the impacts of construction (such as the death of their livestock) have left most of the participants in debt. The project has completely failed to deliver any increase in incomes.

To date (May 2002), there has been no official investigation of the health damage. Residents say that in discussions with EGAT, officials claimed that "blasting was used once a day" and "construction was halted whenever the wind blew towards the villages," denying any negative impacts resulted from the construction works.

The testimony of affected villagers

A man in his fifties

He described the situation during construction, while looking at his pickup truck: "Every day I took sick people to the hospital in this car. Some people didn't like the idea of other people dying in their cars. Some days I was just ferrying sick people all day without a moment's rest." It was his task to take people in respiratory distress from the mountain villages to the hospital on the plain.

A woman in her fifties

It was time to prepare the evening meal, but she was lying down and her husband, with poor eyesight, was cooking: "Our daughter, who is 30, sends money to support us and our three grandchildren. I used to support the family by taking day jobs. Now, as you can see, I'm bedridden. It's hard for me to breathe, and I can't do hard work."

A woman aged 17

Her infant's asthma had cleared up, but her own condition deteriorated again during the construction period. She had to drop out of school in the first year of high school and rest at home. She would go back to school, given the opportunity, but her parents also suffer asthma-like symptoms and their income is unstable.

A woman in her fifties

"Thanks to the project, the road is better than it was, but we can't eat the road to keep ourselves alive. We also have health problems. We never opposed the project, and haven't grudged our cooperation until now, but why won't anyone help us now?"

A woman in her forties

My father had reached an age when he left the work to the children and stayed at home. He spent a lot of time looking out of the upstairs window. One day during the construction, he suddenly went into respiratory distress and died. The place where he sat was open to the wind. There must have been a lot of dust c"

A woman in her seventies

"Our grandson began suffering from asthma during the construction. If he washes in cold water he coughs all night. We have to be very careful on cold days." The boy sitting nearby had a towel around his neck. Apparently it was there because his breathing didn't allow him to close his mouth, so he drooled constantly.

This boy suffers from constant drooling, for which he has to carry a towel.
(Photo: Mekong Watch)

A man in his fifties

"After the construction, the well at my home dried up. We depend on the public reservoir built by EGAT, but the water is of bad quality and gives me a rash all over if I bathe in it. It's always brown and cloudy."

The residents' compensation demands

The residents are continuing discussions with EGAT, but there is no sign of a solution. Therefore they have joined a nationwide network of people who have suffered from the impacts of government development projects called the Assembly of the Poor, and they have demanded that the Thai government establish a committee to find the truth. This demand has been approved and the residents are now calling for budget allocations to fund measures such as a survey of damage to their health.

They are also making the following demands of EGAT:

  • Safe water supplies.
  • Compensation for damage suffered during the construction period.
  • Funding for a village trust fund for medical treatment.
  • Compensation for livestock and fruit trees.

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