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Dam benefits doubted

Government faces call to review the economic impact

Anchalee Kongrut , Bangkok post 27 Aug 2001

Academics and non-governmental organisations sceptical about the benefits of dams are calling on the government to reconsider whether they actually produce positive results.

Chainarong Sretthachau, director of the NGO Southeast East Asia Rivers Network (Searin), said the government would be asked to appoint an independent body to review the social and economic impact of dams, and their safety.

More than 40 large dams, each costing more than a billion baht, have been built in Thailand over the past three decades.

This was in addition to thousands of weirs and small dams, Mr Chainarong said.

A national council should be set up to approve new projects instead of leaving the decision to state agencies which wanted to build them, he said.

Thavivongse Sriburi, associate professor of hydrological engineering at Chulalongkorn University, said many dam projects were initiated by state agencies solely to get budgetary support from the state and to show they were doing something.

The country's irrigation system, built at a cost of more than 50 billion baht of taxpayer money, could deliver less than 50% of its real capacity.

Academics and NGOs argue many large dams have a life span of only another 10 years or so.

They feel that the country must prepare to cope with this.

They are campaigning for the decommissioning of some of the dams that they see as having a severe environmental impact.

These included the Pak Moon, Rasi Salai and Bang Pakong dams.

Operations at the three dams have been temporarily suspended without any severe impact on local communities, they say.

If the Pak Moon dam was permanently decommissioned, the production cost of electricity would rise by only 0.6 satang per kilowatt/hour, according to Searin information.

Prof S Parasuraman, formerly of the World Commission on Dams, an independent agency giving independent reviews on 125 dams worldwide including Pak Moon, said the decision-making process for dams should include local communities which would be directly affected.

The WCD had proposed guidelines that championed pre-evaluation of the real need for dams and assessment of alternatives before making a commitment.

Three years ago, the Namibian government adopted an alternative assessment which allowed it to drop a dam project and use natural wetland that delivered equal flood control capacity.

The Netherlands, Britain, Sweden, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, Brazil and Pakistan had taken heed of the WCD's guidelines.

These countries had started evaluating alternative options before making a decision to build a dam, Prof Parasuraman said.


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