Villager Research on the Impacts of Opening Pak Mun Dam


Findings of Villager Research on the Impacts of Opening Pak Mun Dam Gates in Thailand

Conducted by Assembly of the Poor - Pak Mun
And Southeast Asia Rivers Network - Thailand Chapter
October, 2002


Fisheries are flourishing along the Mun River and people's livelihoods are starting to recover since the Thai government opened the gates of the Pak Mun Dam in June 2001. People affected by Pak Mun initiated a villager research program, known as Ngan Wijai Thai Baan, to investigate the effects of opening the dam gates and to empower communities by promoting local knowledge on resource management. This report presents the findings of this research.

The Pak Mun Dam was built in 1994 by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, with financing from the World Bank. After a decade of resistance by local villagers, the government opened the gates for one year and commissioned studies, carried out by Ubon Ratchathani University, on fisheries, social impacts and the impact of the dam on electricity supply.

Fisheries improving

When the Dam was built, villagers found that 45 fish species indigenous to the Mun and Mekong rivers remain in the Mun River in Pak Mun area. Since the opening of the dam gates, villagers found that 156 species of fish have returned to the Mun River. This includes 148 fish species indigenous to the Mun and Mekong Rivers, such as the rare and endangered Mekong Giant Catfish. Most of the fish are migratory. 123 are migratory species that travel from the Mekong River to the Mun to live, feed and spawn; 25 species primarily live in the Mun River and are only temporarily migratory.

Physical features of ecosystem recovering

Many physical features of the Mun River were submerged when the dam was built and have started to recover since the dam gates were opened. Examples show the community's knowledge of the complex ecosystem and intertwined relationship with the river. For example, fishermen perform "Sao Luang" ceremonies before each fishing season at clay pools, which are very productive fishing spots. Humps or islands play an important role in the food security of villagers. They are used to grow vegetables, collect naturally-occurring vegetables and herbs and provide spawning areas for fish. When the dam was built, the diverse ecosystems vanished along with people's rights to use natural resources.

Fishing gear returning to use

Fishing gear has considerable significance to local communities. It does not only have practical use for catching fish, but also reflects the fishermen's knowledge of the Mun River ecosystem. Fishing gear also guarantees that there will be food for the family and the community, represents the passing down of knowledge to future generations and is a source of honor and dignity for fishermen.

Fishermen use at least 75 different types of fishing gear. After the building of the dam, more than 30 types of fishing gear were never used, particularly in the flooded area. The dam shut out the knowledge and wisdom that had been collected for many generations and made it almost obsolete within a few years. Fishing gear was left to deteriorate. The dam destroyed relationships in the fishing communities and diminished the honor and dignity of fishermen.

Since the opening of the dam gates, 75 types of fishing gear are now being used again. The river is once again full of boats. Traps are set along the length of the river. The fishermen are putting their knowledge to use. The fertility of the river has returned along the honor and dignity of the fishermen. Hunger has vanished from the fishing communities.

Vegetation and riverbank vegetable gardens growing

Vegetation along the Mun River has started to recover over the last year. Villagers now have access to plants that grow in the rapids, islands, riverbanks and tributaries of the Mun River. The villager research team found 342 plant species on the rapids, islands, riverbanks and tributaries of the Mun River after the dam gates were opened. These plants are utilized in many ways. 138 species are used as herbs and food. Some are used for fish food, fishing gear, livestock, rope, timber, household appliances and for practicing their beliefs. The villager research team found 56 plant species are growing in the rapids and the river only.

The opening of the dam gates has restored water levels to their original levels. Fertile land along the riverbanks and tributaries was utilized for growing riverbank vegetable gardens during the winter and summer. Approximately 700 households have recovered their land. Villagers estimate that this number will keep growing if the dam is permanently opened.

Positive social and cultural impacts

Many people have benefited from the opening of the dam gates. Villagers on the riverbanks upstream and downstream from the dam and tributaries of the Mun River can once again catch fish, cultivate vegetables in riverbank gardens and collect food plants and herbs on islands, riverbanks, rapids and tributaries. Water is available for daily use. The villagers use the rapids and riverbanks to hold ceremonies such as the Songkran festival and the "Wan Nao", which has not been conducted since the closing of the dam gates. Villagers of Baan Kok or upland communities have returned to fishing along with many other villagers. Small businesses, tourists and travel-related businesses have also profited from the opening of the dam gates.

The opening of the dam is changing the social and cultural side of the communities in a very positive way. The number of conflicts between the communities along the banks of the Mun River has significantly decreased compared to when the dam gates were closed. The opening of the dam gates has stabilized food security needs since villagers can catch fish and collect vegetables. Produce from riverbank vegetable gardens has reduced the need for food products from traveling merchants. Knowledge of the river is being passed from parents to their children. Opening of the dam gates has also tightened the bond between the Baan Rim Mun (river-based community) and the Baan Kok (upland and land-based community), which disappeared when the dam was built.

This research is a confirmation that crises and disputes in managing the Mun River basin can be turned into opportunities if the power of managing resources is shared with all people rather than having one group of people monopolizing this power. The use of fishing gear, in particular, represents local knowledge and wisdom over the management of natural resources along the Mun River and has a greater meaning to the entire nation of Thailand.

Prasittiporn KAN-ONSRI [NOI]

Assembly of the Poor. THAILAND.

99, 3 Floor Nakorn Sawan Rd.
Pomprab Bangkok Thailand. 10100.
T:F; 662 2811916 , 2812595, Mo 09-9273556
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