By Pongphon Sarnsamak
The government's ambitious plan to build water and flood infrastructure and management is facing strong opposition from local residents across the North as dam projects in the scheme are expected to adversely affect their villages and livelihoods.
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Thousands of local residents in Chiang Mai, Phayao, Phrae and Phitsanulok are protesting against the dam projects on the Mae Khan, Lower and Upper Yom, and Klong Chomphoo.
These are among 28 dams to be built under the Bt350-billion water and flood management plan for the Ping, Yom, Nan, Sakae Krang, Pasak, and other river basins nationwide. All dam construction projects are due to be completed within five years.
Khiangkham Samyot, 48, is one of 190 residents of Mae Khanil Tai village in Chiang Mai province who opposes the government’s plan to build a reservoir on the Mae Khan in her village.
The reservoir is aimed at retaining water, nearly 80 million cubic metres, for agricultural purposes in Hang Dong and San Pa Tong districts.
About 1,960 rai in Ob Khan National Park and 1,100 rai in Mae Khanil Tai village in Hang Dong and Ban Huay Thong village in San Pa Tong – Khiangkham’s house included – will be under water.
“We will absolutely not move anywhere else. We will be here to protect our homeland,” she said.
Khiangkham and her family have been fighting this dam project for more than 18 years, since the dam was first proposed by the Royal Irrigation Department in 1997.
The department has hired three consulting firms – Panya Consultant, Pre Development, and Sanyu Consultant – to conduct a feasibility study and the environmental impact for this project.
Due to strong opposition from local villagers, the department later had to suspend the project and promise the local villagers that it would not build this dam even if there was one villager opposed to it.
“I never expected that this dam would come back again. No one from any government agency informed us that this project was under the Bt350-billion water and flood scheme,” she said.
Khiangkham has just built a new house from teakwood and planned to move into her new house this year, but she does not expect to relocate far away due to land expropriation for the dam.
To date, she has earned money from a 20-rai farm where she grows lemons, pomelo, bananas and mango. Sometime she can get bamboo shoots and mushrooms from the forest near the village to sell in the fresh market.
“If we move to another place, how can we start a new life?” she said.
Like Khiangkham, Somporn Chantabutr, 48, said she had been fighting against this dam project since she was young, as she and other villagers do not want to move from their birthplace.
Living in a village located in the middle of mountains, Somporn does not have to spend money to buy food. She can plant vegetables behind her house and get mushrooms or bamboo shoots from the forest for cooking.
In Mae Khanil Tai, a 200-year-old village, all houses have put up small wooden banners for 18 years that say: “This House Does Not Want the Dam”.
Moreover, the National Human Rights Commission has reported that the dam project has violated the community’s rights to protect its natural resources and heritage.