Thai dam would flood tiger habitat, activists warn

THAILAND - A group of prominent environmental activists will kick off a protest today against the Nakhon Sawan Mae Wong Dam project, calling on the government to scrap the plan.

They said the dam project would inundate more than 13,000 rai of forest areas in Mae Wong National Park, affecting the balance of wildlife, including tigers.

A group led by Seub Nakhasathien Foundation's secretary-general Sasin Chalermlarp, will hand the petition to the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP)'s panel of environmental experts.

It will request they stop conducting a environmental and health impact assessment (EHIA) report on the proposed dam.

The Mae Wong Dam project was initiated by the Royal Irrigation Department (RID) 30 years ago and is now part of the government's Bt350 (S$14billion) -billion water-management and flood-prevention scheme.

The dam is aimed at resolving flood and drought problems in areas, which deliver water to 291,900 rai of irrigated areas in Nakhon Sawan, Kamphaeng Phet and Uthai Thani.

RID submitted the EHIA report for ONEP's deliberation several times without success, as it did not include information about proper measures to mitigate the impact of the project on the flora and fauna in the area.

In a bid to protest over the dam plan, Sasin and other environmental activists will start walking from Bangkok to the dam construction site located in Nakhon Sawan province's Mae Wong National Park. They will also tear up the EHIA report, page by page, during their protest trip.

Sasin said he protested about the dam project because it would affect thousands of rai in the country's western forest complex, such as Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, a world natural heritage site, and the Kamphaeng Phet's Klong Lan National Park.

According to the study by three environmental agencies - the National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation Department, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the WorldWide Fund - these areas are important habitat for wild tigers.

He also found the dam would not protect the local area and Chao Phraya river basin from flooding as it could retain only 258 million cubic metres of water.

Sasin said there were irregularities in the EHIA deliberative process. The government had changed membership of the environmental expert panel who studied the project's EHIA report several times to speed up the approval process.

ONEP secretary-general Santi Boonprakub said his agency would submit the EHIA report for consideration by the National Environmental Board and Independent Commission on Environment and Health to seek additional recommendations on the project before getting the final Cabinet approval.