By Đình Tuyển
Loei province, Thailand, September 15, 2016
On the Loei River, a tributary of the Mekong River, an “unreal” project of water diversion by Thailand is about to commence, which would cause big conflicts on water usage on the Mekong.
Kong-Loei- Chi-Mun project is a “massive operation” on the whole of the Loei River and will result in villages and houses being wiped out to make way for water containment. Not only the livelihood of the people connected with Loei River will be threatened, but also serious impacts of such a project will spread down to the Mekong Delta.
Ban Klang (Klang village) is a small village of Chiang Khan district, Loei province, adjacent to the border with Laos in northeastern Thailand. The village is surrounded by lush green hills of rubber and cassava etc. Not so far from village’s front gate, the Loei River flows gently, carrying with it alluvium sediments, shrimps and fish from the Mekong, helping the people of Ban Klang make their living by fishing over generations.
When we arrived, people gathered in a big crowd at the front of the village, below an ancient tamarind tree having been there since the establishment of the village and worshiped by the villagers. Despite the peaceful scenery, the people of Ban Klang have had “loss of appetite and sleeplessness” by the huge water-gate of Si Song Rak which is going to be built right at the front of the village, and the water tunnels will destroy the Loei River. The banners of “We need Loei River,” “Do not submerge the village” hung at the village front are the messages the people want to send to the government.
Chief of Klang village, Tanusil Inda, pointing to a large map drawn by hand, hung at the front of the village, said: “We are afraid Ban Klang will be wiped out when the water gate is built on the river because our village is like the bottom of a pan.” According Tanusil Inda, nobody in Ban Klang wants to leave the village with a history of over 400 years. When the authorities came to the meeting to inform residents about the project, the villagers asked many questions about the fate of Ban Klang but received only vague answers. “Things that villagers worried include that their homes will be flooded and their livelihoods seriously disturbed because they won’t be able to make a living by traditional fishing ,” said Tanusil Inda.
Ms. Khampong Pansa, a villager of Ban Klang, told us that in the annual dry season, villagers mainly go down to the river to catch shrimps in the Loei, each day they could sell them for 300-400 bahts to care for their families. “If they dig up the Loei River to build the tunnel, fish will no longer live there, and we will not know what to do for making a living in the dry season? I was born here, and my family has lived here for several generations. I will not go anywhere.” said Ms. Khampong Pansa.
Sitting on a boat of fishermen in Thailand, we hovered above the murky whirling waves of the Mekong, from the upstream side at the border between Thailand and Laos. Turning into the Loei River’s mouth, the water becomes gentle, with rippling waves and foam of alluvium. To a small section of the river at the foot of a large concrete bridge that spans the Loei River, Mr Channarong Wongla, representing fishermen in the district of Chiang Khan, Loei Province, said: “At this place, the river would be destroyed by construction into hundreds of meters and deeper. A giant wall of water door named Si Song Rak will stand in here and the village will be under the deep water. Then water will be pumped out and no longer flows in naturally. ”
More harm than good
Thai fishermen already suffer the decline of fish stocks after the hydropower projects in China and Laos. Now is the time they are concerned about the water transfer project of their own country. Ms. Pa Naan, a fisherwoman who has been fishing for more than 30 years, said: “Several years ago, I could catch in one day of 50 big fish with a weight of 3-8 kg/each, but now big fish are no longer there. Since the dams were built, water flows very irregularly, and every time when they flush the water down the dams, it causes inundation as high as the roof of the house … Fish gradually disappear”.
Confronting the worries and anxiety of the people, Mr Viroj Jiwarangsa, Governor of Loei Province acknowledged that people of Loei Province do not benefit from the Kong-Chi-Mun-Loei project, because water is transferred to the downstream area and provide irrigation for other provinces. He also said that the major impact of the project has faced a backlash from the locals.
The governor of Loei province also said that there was a lot of human intervention in the natural ecology of the Mekong River, such as the dams in China and Laos. He said: “We have been waiting to know more about the project progress as well as its impact on the natural environment and social life in order to make decisions whether to support it or not.
“The fate of Ban Klang and of thousands of households along the Loei River now depends on the judgment of the Thai government in the implementation of the Kong-Chi-Mun-Loei “super project”. The judgment will also severely impact tens of millions of people downstream, including the Mekong Delta.
This story was produced in collaboration with The Mekong Eye and Mekong Matters Journalism Network through a field workshop for journalists. The journalist and their outlet retain full editorial and copyright control. Translation by The Mekong Eye, Read the original on Thanh Niên News.
Lead photo: The river gate of Loei, where the river will be dug up to the depth of hundreds of meter to take water. Mr Tanusil Inda, Head of Klang village, explaining the impacts of the project on the hand-drawn map (small picture), Credit: Thanh Niên News