23 November 2009

Dam Energy

An issue that arises within developing countries is trying to find a balance between globalization and maintaining the lifestyles that families have practiced for generations. One example would be the Pak Mun community in the Ubon Rachatani province of Thailand that is currently being negatively affected by a dam that has been constructed. The Pak Mun community resides alongside the Mun River. The community relies on the Mun River for their livelihood, which mainly consists of farming and fishing. However, since the construction of the dam the community has lost the sustainability of their lifestyle because the fish populations have dropped severely or have even disappeared. In addition, the dam walls impede the path of the fish swimming upstream thus rendering them unable to lay their eggs. Also, a cause of the dam walls is the flooding of the wetlands and homes of the Pak Mun community. As well as fishing and farming, the villagers made good use of the wetlands surrounding their homes to gather various resources and different types of food that would help support their diet.

The Electrical Generation Authority of Thailand (EGAT) built the Pak Mun Dam after receiving the project from National Electric Authority in 1970. The construction of the dam started in 1990 and completed in 1994. The purpose of Pak Mun Dam is to produce 136MW (Mega Watts) of energy to be used to support the energy demand in the Isaan region. However, the dam currently can only produce about 40MW of energy. The villagers have been protesting the dam since its construction and it has been going on for the last twenty years with little progress. Few of the villagers have received compensation from the Electrical Generating Authority of Thailand for property losses but the fight continues to have the Pak Mun Dam gates open all year, more compensation for loss of livelihood, and the right to have their livelihood restored.

The Electrical Generation Authority of Thailand did not come into this community with the intention of destroying their livelihood and property. EGAT came into the area to find a solution for the shortage of energy that Thailand is experiencing as they try to become a participant in the global market. The failures resulting from their actions could be due to the lack of or inadequate quality of a Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). An EGAT representative articulated that “No matter what we do we get criticized, if we use coal we get criticized, if we build a dam we get criticized”. EGAT is in an unenviable position considering there will be criticisms coming from both sides one being that they are not doing enough to produce energy and on the other those who argue that the methods they use are damaging to the community and the environment.

Thailand is currently buying energy being produced in Laos and Burma to make up for what they cannot produce in terms of energy consumption. EGAT has been looking into other energy sources but have not yet made a decision on what method to take or if the method available will make any significant impact for its cost. In addition, if they stop building energy producing structures in Thailand it would result in “more dams being built in Laos, or more coal factories in Burma” as one EGAT executive mentioned. The EGAT representative said that “everyone has the right to their way of life and that should not be taken away from them.”

However, finding a balance between supporting ones lifestyle in the city whom is dependent on energy and ones lifestyle who is in rural Thailand is difficult to do. How is a government supposed to reconcile the wants of its people without alienating another group.

Andreu Neri
Occidental College

1 comment:

Ashlee said...

I think that this post brings up an interesting dilemma when considering globalization and all of its effects. Here in Cuernavaca, Mexico we students have also had the opportunity to study globalization and just as the effects of this particular community in Thailand affected by the dam, efforts to make Mexico a recognizable force in the global economy have also come at the expense of rural populations.

Agriculture is an important part of the Mexican economy and the main way that a number of people living here make an income. The broadening of the global market and the availability of crops from other countries at cheaper rates have rendered many Mexican farmers unable to compete and without their only source of income. However unfortunate this situation is, there are still many who praise globalization like two Mexican businessmen who were in the apparel business that said it opened up a number of opportunities for job and development within the country.

So here lies the moral dilemma; give in to globalization in order to become a competing force in the world market at the expense of rural communities, which in many cases makes up a large part of the country, or maintain traditional methods and be criticized for not helping to better the economic situation of your country. Each choice and its effects can definitely be seen in different situations worldwide