By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
LOCAL PEOPLE along the Mekong River in Thailand have expressed concerns over the Pak Bang Dam in Laos and urged the Lao government to reconsider the project amid worries it could cause major flooding in Chiang Rai and destroy people’s livelihoods.
However, the Water Resources Department said yesterday at the final public hearing regarding the dam in Chiang Rai’s Wiang Kaen district that people’s concerns would be presented to the Mekong River Commission (MRC) in line with the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA). Plans for the dam would be adjusted to mitigate transboundary impacts, the department added.
Ban Huai Leuk village head Thongsuk Inthawong said at the forum that his greatest concern was that the dam would cause major flooding in Wiang Kaen district, with 50 per cent of the arable land submerged and many families forced to relocate.
“The backwater from the Pak Beng Dam will surely reach Thailand and cause severe impacts for people who live along the Mekong River and its tributaries, since the backwater will not only flood fertile farmland on the river banks, but water levels will also rise in tributaries and flood paddy fields in the area,” Thongsuk said.
“We also worry about the impact to the Mekong River ecosystem, since the life of local people depends heavily on the river.”
He said he was also unsure who would be responsible for transboundary damage since the Lao government had not been clear on the subject.
“I don’t think the Lao government will compensate us every year for the chronic impact of the dam. It is unfair that the Thai people will have to bear the burden from a foreign project, so the Lao government should really reconsider the project,” he said.
Jirasak Inthayot, the coordinator for Rak Chiang Khong, or the “Love Chiang Khong”, group also expressed concerns over the impacts to the river ecosystem and people’s livelihood.
Jirasak said Chinese dams on the upper part of the Mekong River had already affected the environment and the new dam in Laos would make the situation worse. People would be unable to identify which project caused the impacts, making compensation claims difficult, he said.
He added that the PNPCA procedures did not prevent harmful impacts on the river, since there was no guarantee that the project developer would take people’s concerns seriously and prevent impacts for the entire river basin.
“People have not had a chance to read the information about the dam before raising their voices in the forum, since the booklet about the dam was just handed to attendees at the registration point and most information was very technical and in English, which is very hard for local people to understand,” he said.
However, Mekong River Management Bureau director Nuanla-or Wongpinitwarodom said people’s concerns would be conveyed in the PNPCA process presented to the Lao government so the project developer could improve the plan.
“We cannot ask them to stop the project, as it would violate the sovereignty of their territory, but Laos also has to respect our rights to use the river, so they have to consider our concerns,” Nuanla-or said.
She added that all concerns and suggestions from local people would be summarised in the report submitted to the MRC, which would be discussed at a meeting on June 19.
“This is not the end of the story, because we can submit our concerns directly to the Lao government or the MRC after the PNPCA process, if it seems that the dam project will cause transboundary impacts to Thailand.”
According to the MRC, the Pak Beng Dam will be a 912-megawatt, run-of-river hydropower development project with investment from the Chinese firm China Datang Corporation. The dam is expected to create a 559-million-cubic-metre reservoir, with the backwater predicted to reach Kaeng Pha Dai at the Thailand-Laos border in Wiang Kaen district.
The dam site is about 97 kilometres downstream from Wiang Kaen district, while 90 per cent of the electricity produced at the dam is intended to be sold to Thailand.