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Locals up in arms over reservoir

Mae Chaem residents voice worries about displacement and landslides.

The planned Mae Chaem Reservoir has put thousands of people under stress and many other people at risk of landslides, according to concerns voiced at a public hearing on the reservoir project.

Concerned authorities yesterday held the public hearing on the Mae Chaem and Mae Khan reservoirs in Chiang Mai. The forum attracted more than 6,000 people.

While local people expressed support for the Mae Khan Reservoir, the Mae Chaem Reservoir met with strong opposition. Both reservoirs were planned as part of the government's Bt350-billion water-management scheme.

Orphya Organisation's director, Somkiat Meetham, yesterday led 270 locals in submitting their written opposition against the Mae Chaem Reservoir to Chiang Mai Governor Wichien Puthiwinyoo.

"This reservoir project is against the wishes of Mae Chaem residents. It fails to take into account the cultural landscape," he said.

He said thousands of local people were now worried and stressed that the Mae Chaem Dam would destroy their villages and livelihood.

"All the residents in some villages will have to be relocated. Those living downstream of the reservoir will be at risk of landslides," Somkiat said.

He pointed out that Mae Chaem district was prone to earthquakes, which might cause some land mass to slide from reforested zones around the Mae Chaem Reservoir if it was constructed.

Speaking on behalf of thousands of Karen-ethnic people, Utai Payaptanakorn also lamented that the authorities had never consulted locals before this.

"More than 3,000 local people are against the construction of this reservoir because it will cause us trouble," he said.

He believed the reservoir would flood their villages that spanned more than 12,000 rai of land.

Utai also pointed out that if constructed, the Mae Chaem Reservoir would destroy the Pha Wing Choo forest in Chiang Mai's Mae Chaem district.

Somkiat suggested that the Pha Wing Choo should be developed as a natural and cultural attraction with check dams and well-catered irrigation systems instead.

Wichien assured the locals that the authorities had not yet reached a conclusion on the construction of the Mae Chaem Reservoir.

"We are in the process of listening to people's opinions," he |said.

More than 100 people, including a few dozens of university students, marched from Chiang Mai University to the International Convention and Exhibition Centre Commemorating His Majesty's 7th Cycle Birthday Anniversary yesterday to draw public attention to the likely adverse impacts of Mae Chaem Reservoir. The centre hosted the public forum.

Hannarong Yaowalers, who chairs the Integrated Water Management Foundation, said he suspected the government was trying to propose many projects in its massive water-management scheme simply because it wanted to utilise all the Bt350 billion budget approved for the scheme.

"Some projects don't really provide solutions," he said.

The massive budget was approved in the wake of the 2011 flood crisis. The government has described the scheme as a means to resolve the flood and drought problem.




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