The course was structured as follows:
week one- in Chiang Mai to learn and understand the rivers in
week two- in Nong Bo (Fishing village) living in a village directly affected by the building of the Pak Mun Dam on the
mid-block break- two days of seminar and discussion on what we learned and tools for processing everything
week three/four- Canoeing down the
The conflict that we continually learned about is the link between access to river resources and human rights are linked. The government looks at the rivers as a source of money and power whereas the villagers view it differently. The Mun river is referred to as the Mae Nam Mun, which uses the Thai word for mother. The
The dams have created great issues concerning human rights and the access to river resources. Construction of dams violates this idea of earth rights: “earth rights are those rights that demonstrate the connection between human well-being and a sound environment, and include the right to a healthy environment, the right to speak out and act to protect the environment, and the right to participate in development decisions” (Earth Rights 20.) Each aspect has been violated with the creation of the dams. The right to a healthy environment is abused when a person is forced to move out of their home because of dynamiting a channel. When a river is unable to provide a healthy environment (as a result of outside influences) it directly impacts the livelihood of the people that use the river everyday. Fishermen can not survive on a river that has become environmentally unsound because if you take away fish then there is no life for people.
While in Nong Bo we spoke with Mae Jarun, a woman who was the first in her village to oppose the building of the Pak Mun Dam and she has been a leading protester since before the dam was built. Mae Jarun and the alliance of fishermen (along the
Right to participation is the link between human rights and the environment. This right can be violated if there is not genuine involvement, if power is forced, and if people are not allowed to take part in decision making. The stakeholders involved wih the building of the Pak Mun Dam and many other dams alike (including projected dams) are not given equal participation. The villagers downstream of the dam were notified but their say had little influence in the dam construction. When stakeholders are lied to and not given a fair say then their human rights are abused.
The people that have been affected by human rights abuses along the Mae Nam Mun and the
We were given the opportunity to tour the Pak Mun Dam and learn about how it works from the engineers who control it. They walked us all around the dam and then took us down into the control room where everything happens. We learned that the dam only opens its gates for a few months during the rainy season and the rest of the year the only water flow is through the electrical turbines that run during peak electricity hours (starting at 5pm). The villagers said that every year they have to turn in a petition to open the gates in June (they would prefer the gates to be open all year round), which is time consuming and extremely stressful trying to fight against government decisions. It blows my mind how much power the government has over these people; at any time, day or night, the government can call up the engineers and ask them to open the gates (even if it is harmful), yet the villagers have to petition and protest for days on end to open the gates in June. A few days before we heard from Mae Jarun a tragedy happened. The government wanted to stock up water for Songkran Festival and they decided that the best way to do this was get it from the reservoir above the Pak Mun Dam. They sent word to the engineers that they wanted some of the gates to be opened that night, and of course, they got their wish. When the engineers open the gates they told us that they first blow a few blasts on a horn to let the villagers know and then they open the gates very slowly to both allow the flow to seem more natural and to avoid sediment contamination. However, this was not the case on that night. No one remembers the blasts and gates were not opened slowly to allow for a natural flow. Mae Jarun’s two sons went fishing late into the night a few kilometers downstream from the dam; both of them fell asleep in their boats, but one son got up to get closer to shore. On his way over to shore he heard an earsplitting, train whistle, roaring sound and then a few seconds later a huge tidal wave of water came bellowing down the river. The son near the shore was unable to yell to his brother to wake him up in time. One of Mae Jarun’s sons was killed and her other son barely survived the scariest moment of his life. Of all people, Mae Jarun, the woman who was the first to stand up against the Pak Mun Dam, the woman who has lost everything because of this dam, it just sickens me that the government doesn’t even care.
Why am I here? That is a question I have been thinking about constantly the past few weeks. These thoughts started after the community meeting and was heightened at the mid-block seminar. I definitely did not know what I was getting into when I applied fro this semester. I didn’t know that I would be in a village that has been directly affected by the building of the dams, or even see and experience human rights/earth rights abused first hand. I didn’t know that each community that I will be staying with will take a piece of my heart. I didn’t think that I would be struggling over issues that villagers have been experiencing for many years. I didn’t know it would be this difficult!
I definitely felt a huge sense of guilt. I felt like I needed to do something, but didn’t quite know just what it was. The seminar definitely helped channel my thoughts and understand that I have already done a lot. Just by sitting there and listening to the stories of the villagers and participating in their culture was a way to empower the community. Hopefully, I have showed them that someone cares about their village and what has happened to them. Maybe I even gave them a sense of hope and dignity. I struggle with this. Is it just a cop out to say that I did all I could by listening to their stories? They even said themselves that they are tired and can’t think of anything else to do. I think the only way that I can truly grasp this idea is by figuring it out myself with the right of participation.