Community Solidarity and Resilience Arises from Hardship in the Wake of Rasi Salai Dam Construction in Northeastern Thailand

Reflections from the MAIDS 2015/16 Trimester 1 Field-trip

“When ecosystems change, people change.” These five words, spoken by a member of the Rasi Salai community, really capture what we were able to observe during the MAIDS program’s first trimester fieldtrip this year. From November 13 – 15, we traveled to Rasi Salai in Northeastern Thailand to learn about the impact of the contested Rasi Salai irrigation dam on the surrounding community from the Tam Mun Association. The Tam Mun Association is a community organization working to raise awareness about the impacts of the dam on their livelihoods as well as share local traditional knowledge.

Over the course of two days, Tam Mun Association members shared with us how the environmental changes following the construction of the dam have negatively impacted their ability to live off the land. Prior to the dam construction in the early 1990s, fishing, farming, livestock raising and gathering edible and medicinal plants from the forest were the mainstays of the community’s wellbeing. Today, the land area for these activities has been reduced drastically and fish migration routes have been disrupted, thereby transforming the relationship between the community and their surrounding environment. Household food security and income now must be supplemented through markets and migration.

The Tam Mun members we spoke with lamented about the shifting family and social structures of the community as younger generations sought employment in urban areas and highlighted the new health issues community members have encountered due to changing food sources, increased pesticide use in their farming, and more sedentary lifestyles. Despite their hardships, the Tam Mun members were still keen to show us a good time. We enjoyed trying our hand at wild potato foraging, making offerings to the monks at the local temple, picnicking with homemade papaya salad, sticky rice and fish laab, and having a cross-cultural evening of singing and dancing with our new friends from Rasi Salai.  

This fieldtrip to Rasi Salai was eye-opening in many ways. Not only were we able to learn directly from local community members about the long-term impacts of the dam, but we were also able to see firsthand – through the eyes of the community - the beauty and hidden wealth of the natural environment.

Some additional words directly from other 2015/16 MAIDS students:

“I appreciated this fieldtrip and also the hospitality of the Rasi Salai folks very much. They showed us the strength of their community to address problems caused by the dam construction.” – Angkana, Thailand

“This fieldtrip was a good opportunity for me to learn about the effects of dams on sustainable livelihoods, which I never thought about before, and the power of community solidarity. Additionally, modernization efforts may not always yield expected results if they do not meet local communities' needs as well.”– Phuong, Vietnam

“This trip gave me new experiences and opportunities to learn about a different area of Thailand. Moreover, I learned that sustainability is an important factor to consider for development projects.” – Khemarin, Thailand

“On this trip, I learned that "knowledge is power." It is important to have knowledge about the surrounding environment to protect it as a source of food, water, and beautiful nature for our enjoyment and spirituality.” – Malaka, Palestine

“I will never forget the beautiful community members and the flooded wetlands surrounding the Mun River. What I will always remember from the trip is that the ecosystem and people are interconnected – not only in terms of livelihoods but also social structures.” – Htu Raw, Myanmar


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