By Maureen Harris
Bangkok, March 8, 2018
Today, on International Women’s Day, a recent trip to the Mekong Basin serves as a reminder that women’s voices must be central to decision-making on hydropower, and in broader energy planning for Thailand and the region.
The Nam Ou River, a longest tributary of the Mekong in Laos, is quiet during the early morning. Community activities, such as fishing and collection of river weeds, are merely a memory. A cascade of dams under construction along the Nam Ou block this important tributary. The once mighty river is being transformed into a series of seven reservoirs by the Chinese developer PowerChina Resources.
The Nam Ou was known for its kai, a famous freshwater weed. Kai used to be an important source of income for women and elders during the dry season. In the past, people gathered kai in the river bed of the Nam Ou during the few rainless months of the year when the water was low and clear. Women could collect up to 10kg kai each day. They sold kai, both fresh and dried, to the local market and to the ancient town of Luang Prabang, earning around 10 million Lao kip or more each season (47,000 baht).
When the dams began construction, villagers whose houses would be flooded received cash compensation for their involuntary displacement to resettlement sites. But the lost value of kai and similar resources was not taken into consideration by the dam developers. The loss of the kai industry is an example of a gendered impact — and all too often when we are talking about women’s industries, and women’s labour, these are issues not considered by dam developers. As such, developers do nothing to avoid or compensate for their loss.
“Don’t ask about compensation. No compensation was given for what was lost in the flood. When the Chinese team came to see their reservoir, they couldn’t see what was there prior to their dam. They don’t pay,” a women in her 60s told us during a recent visit to the area.