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Rasi Salai Dam


The Rasi Salai Dam, located just upstream from Pak Mun Dam on Thailand’s Mun River, has been a disaster since it was first proposed. The project was the first to be built of 13 dams planned to irrigate land in northeast Thailand as part of the Kong-Chi-Mun Water Diversion project. Originally slated as a five meter high inflatable rubber dam, the final product, completed in 1994, was a 17 meter high concrete dam with a large reservoir.

The project was supposed to irrigate about 5,500 hectares. However, Rasi Salai Dam is currently useless and likely to remain so. The reservoir sits on top of a huge salt dome creating water too salty for irrigation. Because of this design flaw, Thailand's Office of Environmental Policy and Planning has refused to give permission for the dam's irrigation canals to be built. Further, the defunct project has cost more than six times original estimates, even without the cost of construction of the associated canals.

While project benefits have not materialized, Rasi Salai Dam has had huge impacts on local villagers and the environment. More than 15,000 people lost farmland when the reservoir was filled, 60 percent of whom have not received compensation. The dam blocked fish migration routes and destroyed the largest freshwater swamp forest in the Mun River basin. The forest provided a source of food and traditional medicine for the villagers, fish habitat, flood control and water treatment.

For several years, affected people have rallied for the permanent decommissioning of Rasi Salai Dam. In August 1999, more than 1,850 people created a village in the reservoir area on the site of their old one and named it Mae Mun Man Yuen Village #2, the Long Lasting Mun River Village. They risked drowning in their quest for permanent opening of the dam gates.

In a victory for villagers, on July 6, 2000, Thailand's Science Minister agreed to open all seven sluice gates of Rasi Salai to let the river run free for at least two years for environmental recovery and to conduct studies to determine who was affected by the project. Villagers are now demanding that the gates be permanently opened.

All of the photos here feature the river ecosystem and villager’s livelihoods that will return to the Mun River after the Pak Mun and Rasi Salai Dam gates are opened.

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