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Experience Sharing among Villagers to Prevent Deterioration of the Ecosystem in the Mekong River Basin
■Purpose of this project
This project aims to assist local villagers in the Mekong River Basin to understand the impact of dams on their lives. The project also seeks to support the activities led by the local villagers to preserve the ecosystem in the areas where dam construction is planned. Some dams have been already constructed in parts of the Basin and the villagers in those areas have witnessed the dam’s impact on the ecosystem as well as local societies. The project will convey their experiences to the villagers who are currently facing dam construction plans by using visual materials such as videos.
There are a variety of biological species living in the Mekong River Basin. The diversity of aquatic organisms is especially high, second to the variety found in the Amazon River. Humans living in the Mekong River Basin have enjoyed the bounty of the River’s resources over generations. Today, development of power sources is evolving quickly and hydroelectric dams are being built in the mainstream of the Mekong in China as well as in the tributaries in Laos and Thailand. Plans to construct dams in the lower mainstream of the Mekong are also being developed.
While villagers benefit from the creation of hydroelectric dams, they also block natural river flows and deteriorate the ecosystem. Deterioration in the ecosystem affects local villagers who depend on natural resources along the river. Dams change the natural environment and negatively impact the lives of the people who live close to the nature in rural areas in the Mekong River Basin countries.
Many villagers live on animals and plants they can find in the forests and as well as on agriculture based upon the seasonal cycle. It is difficult for them to change their life style immediately to deal with environmental deterioration. They may have to increase the environment load if the natural resources decrease. People in the affected areas need to be well-informed of the dams’ impact on their community. In addition, villagers’ opinions should be reflected in the development plans. By distributing information to villagers and incorporating their opinions into the development plans, we can deal with the negative impact of the dams and promote proper governance of development projects. People in the Mekong River Basin have accumulated abundant knowledge on the local ecosystem through their daily lives. Such traditional knowledge is precious information which should be utilised in preserving the ecosystem in the area where scientific studies have not been fully conducted.
If negative impacts are not appropriately evaluated prior to the commencement of development projects, they will impose social burdens on the affected areas and countries for many years to come. A typical example can be found in the case of the Pak Mun dam, which is recorded in our visual materials.
The Mun River is a tributary of the Mekong River which goes through north eastern Thailand. Fishery once flourished in the lower Mun River where fish migrate from the mainstream, but was seriously damaged by the Pak Mun dam which was completed in 1994. After the dam was constructed, villagers repeatedly demanded the opening of its floodgates. In 2003, the Thai government partially answered the demand and opened the floodgates four months per year to address local's concerns. Villagers continue to request the government to open the floodgates permanently.
The experiences in the Mun River Basin offer significant lessons for future developments in the Mekong River Basin. Villagers in the affected areas can provide so much information on how the dam changed the local ecosystem and their lives. There also have been sociological studies conducted to substantiate the impact on villagers’ lives.
Through interviews and surveys, we have researched villagers' knowledge of ecosystems and the negative impact of dams on the lives. Our findings are compiled as a documentary film. The film was originally produced in the Thai language and later translated into Japanese and English. The film was shown in June 2010 at Ubon Ratchathani University in Ubon Ratchathani Province in Thailand, where the Pak Mun dam is located. We have distributed the film as DVDs to concerned NGOs and researchers. We will continue to show the film in cooperation with NGOs working in rural areas of Thailand. We also plan to present the documentary in Cambodia.
This documentary film was produced to share with the people living in the Mekong Basin the impacts on nature and livelihood brought by dam construction. It is very hard for people who have never even seen a dam to imagine the environmental changes caused by damming. In order to inform them of the changes, the film conveys how people use the Mun River and what they have to say about their lives after Pak Mun Dam was constructed there. We hope the film will help our audience to have prior knowledge on how dams may alter natural environment and people’s lives. By understanding dams’ impacts through this film, we hope people will be able to see different aspects of development projects, consider both positive and negative changes beforehand and choose the environment and livelihood best for each community.
Written in Thai by: Luntharimar Longcharoen
Supported by: The Japan Trust for Global Environment
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