I’m trying to be quiet more often. To listen more fully. To pay attention to silent spaces.

This time studying river ecosystems and issues having to do with human rights has set before me an incredible narrative, of the relationship between humans and their environment, a connection that holds both sorrow and joy. I’m not quite sure how to share this through a blog post, but I’ll try.

In Thai, the word for river is “Meh Nam,” which literally translates as “Mother Water.” This reality, one of life bound up in the river, was humbly evident in the two communities that we stayed over the past two weeks. I would particularly like to share with you about my time in the first village, Nawg Poh, along the Mun River.

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The integrity of this river ecosystem and the integrity of its fifty-five villages exist in a seamless relationship. The families there relied almost entirely upon the river. The relationship manifested itself in many ways. That is, many fished (both for subsistence and some income), but the river’s importance spanned far beyond this one, direct connection. Its flood cycle was a curcial part to the agriculture too, rice fields relied upon the flood cycle, as did the commonly-held forests and wetlands (producing vegetables that women, in particular, gathered for food and sale). River-side gardens were an important reality in the dry seasons, as were the dug out pools in the rice fields, created during floods and stocked with fish to breed and createa  source of protein during the drier half of the year, when the river was low.

The Pak Mun Dam project was a hydro-electric initiative. Dam projects are often seen positively not only because of their energy production, but also for their creation of a reservoir upstream is often seen as an opportunity to stock fish and prawns.

However, dams, in how they cut the flow of a river, have damaging impacts upon the communities that hold relationship with the river. The legacy was evident in Nawg Poh. As a dam cuts the flow of a river, fish, sediments, and nutrients (not to mention water) are unable to pass through. This has drastically cut both the quantity and diversity of fish (they can no longer travel upstream to spawn). In addition, the flood cycle is lost, negatively impacting the commons (forests and wetlands) and agriculture efforts. At the same time, the Pak Mun Dam is not actually economically viable. The project has produced far less than it had intended.

Nawg Poh today is a place lacking a generation, where young adults have been forced to leave and search for work elsewhere. Most move to Bangkok or other larger cities, as wage laborers and migrant construction workers. The people of Nawg Poh (mostly grandparents and grandchildren) expressed their mourning not only for the river, but also for their culture and way of life.

 

This is a brief, unthorough explanation of what I was studying in Nawng Poh. However, let it be an introduction to the topic. Perhaps I will return throughout the next two weeks (before I leave the city again) and revisit the issue and flesh out a few more thoughts.

If you are interested in reading details regarding the issue, feel free to check out the official report from the World Commission on Dams.

Until later. Peace, Reb.

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