SASIN CHALERMLARP, secretary-general of the Seub Nakhasathien Foundation, walked 388 kilometres from the to-be site of the Mae Wong Dam to the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre with two goals in mind: to stop the construction of the dam, and raise people's
And it appears that he might have, more or less, achieved these goals.
He raised people’s awareness, as thousands joined him in his march or met him at the heart of the city.
Also, the government has been forced to stop and listen.
It’s obvious that the Mae Wong Dam has become a hot issue, grabbing people’s attention. More people are discussing the issue and sharing pertinent information, such as the history of the project. It was first proposed in 1982 and in 1989, the Cabinet decided to get the Royal Irrigation Department to run an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the project. The department handed this study over to Chiang Mai University.
Later, a key environmental panel ordered the department to conduct further assessment and eventually, in 1998, the panel decided to get the project dropped.
From time to time, new attempts to push the project through kept popping up, but as long as questions about the suitability of the project site, the environmental impact, the impact on local residents and worthiness of the investment remain, the project could not go ahead.
On April 10, 2012, out of nowhere, Yingluck Shinawatra’s Cabinet decided that the Mae Wong Dam would go ahead as it would supposedly resolve the problems of flood and drought. The Cabinet allocated a huge budget of Bt13.2 billion for an eight-year construction period. The construction cost was first estimated at Bt3.7 billion in 1982, Bt7 billion in 2008 and then Bt9 billion in 2001.
Then, as required by law, the environment and health impact assessment process (EHIA) kicked off.
Sasin set off on his march to query this “questionable” EHIA process, ranging from the selection of committee members to the consideration of incomplete data with some information being blatantly ignored.
Fortunately, Sasin’s march has ignited an exchange of information and debate in society and the thousands who showed up in his support at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre on Sunday managed to make the government stop and listen.
Sadly though, Deputy Prime Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi, who is in charge of the Bt350-billion water management project, which includes Mae Wong Dam, is insisting the project will go ahead and is accusing the opponents of caring more about forests and animals than their compatriots. Yingluck, too, has said it’s difficult to choose between natural beauty and suffering from floods.
Yet, no matter what the people in the government are saying, going ahead with this project will no longer be easy, especially since Sasin is demanding that more steps be added to the EHIA process.
In a seminar last week, Dr Smith Tungkasmit of Rangsit University’s College of Social Innovation said the urban population should stand up and take action so problems can be solved.
Clearly support that Sasin has won proves that people’s “attention and action” can indeed have an impact.