A Life That Flows – Or Doesn’t Flow – With the River
By Manivone Luangsombath, Lao Women’s Union Magazine,
Tongcharoen Sihatham uses a slow voice to speak of the river he has
known since childhood, “I feel very sad and lonely when I look at where I
used to live along the Moon, a river I have depended on since I was a
A lifelong resident of Khong Chiam district in Ubol
Ratchathani Province, Tongcharoen used to depend for his entire living on
the fish he caught – eating what he and his family needed, then selling
the rest to buy rice and commercial goods.
That all changed
with the construction of The Pak Moon dam, which began in 1991 and was
completed in 1994. While the dam was being built, the villagers staged
several protests out of concern for their future. Even though the conflict
at one point turned violent, Tongcharoen says that the Electricity
Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) still ignored their
"When the Pak Moon Dam was built on the river, it
destroyed many rapids – which form spawning grounds for fish – and
prevented migration along the river, killing many fish species. It seems
the dam also kills us, because now we can’t catch fish anymore," he
"Before the construction, there were more than 200 fish
species in the river. Everyday, we were able to catch lots of fish. We
always celebrated full-moon days and the Lao New Year on the Kaeng Tana
rapids, until they were blasted to pave the way for water to flow out of
the dam reservoir.
"Nowadays, the water is mostly still and there
are no more rapids. What’s more there are now only ten types of fish found
in the river. The fish catch has dropped almost 90%,” he said. “The
blasting of the rapids caused a decline in fish where they live and spawn.
The dam also blocks fish migration to river upstream [where fish used to
breed on flooded riverbanks],” he said.
"The fish ladder
built by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) does not
help, it’s not effective at all," he complained. "We’ve never seen any
fish jumping the ladder. So that means fish cannot
"Even when the water gates are opened, the fish
can’t migrate because the flow of water is very strong,” he explained,
adding that he has seen many dead fish when the gate is opened from tome
Tongcharoen, 55, said he is very upset with EGAT for
building the fish ladder without enough prior study.
of the protests against dam construction, Tongcharoen says that hundred of
houses and thousand of rai of farmland upstream have also been destroyed
by floodwaters. "The dam has completely changed the life of people here,"
They [EGAT] only know about electricity, "he
concluded. “They don’t know anything about fish or the way people live