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Watershed, Part II
Burmese Relief Center--Japan
DATE:September 9, 1995
TIME: 11:56AM JST
Subj:Sub: Excerpts from Watershed, Part II
Excerpts from Vol 1 No. 1, of WATERSHED
from TERRA (Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional
TERRA is the sister Organization of project for Ecological
Recovery (PER), registered together as the Foundation for
Ecological Recovery. PER, established in 1986, works to
support local communities within Thailand in protecting
rivers, forests, land, and livelihoods.
Watershed is published quarterly by:
Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance
TERRA, 409 Soi Rohitsuk, Pracharatbampen Road,
Huay-Khwang, Bangkok 10310, Thailand
Tel: (66 2) 691 0718-20; Fax: (66 2) 691 0714, email:
Subscriptions rates for NGOs are: US$10 within Asia, US$15
for Aust/Europe and
US$20 for N. America. Institution and business subscriptions
somewhat higher. Any NGOs or community groups who
would like to request a subsidy for their subscription, please
Please send an International Money Order only, to 'TERRA'.
Prices are based on 3 issues per year.
(TERRA IS THE BEST SOURCE OF RELIABLE
INFORMATION ON SALWEEN AND MOEI DAMS, and
other ecological threats to Burma. BRC-J)
"DEVELOPMENT" PROPAGANDA, PROMISES, LIES
by Anurak Wangpattana (Note: Anurak Wangpattana is a
pseudonym for an activist resident in Thailand)
"Let us not be obsessed with catchwords and seductive
slogans imported from the West.
Have we not our own distinctive eastern traditions?"
"Development" will ensure "prosperity for all". A catchword
and seductive slogan, "imported from the West", which has
become the dominant obsession of State governments
throughout Asia. "Development"' towards an industrialized
economy integrated with the global market economy. "Devel-
opment" measured by "Gross National Product"', "per capita
income", and "prosperity" and with the objective of "develop-
ment"' equal to that in the United States of America, or Swit-
zerland, or Australia. Accordingly, men and women, children
and rice, forests, rivers, communities, and cultures are labelled
"impoverished", "primitive" and "underdeveloped" when their
knowledge systems, ways of life, and natural environment are
measured against the systems of modern science, "quality of
life" and "natural resources" of an "industrialized", "developed"
For decades, the requirements of "development" , and the con-
sequences, have been understood and accepted by the
advocates of "development". According to an American
anthropologist writing about the "social anthropology of
economic underdevelopment" in 1960,
Economic development of an underdeveloped people ... is not
compatible with the maintenance of their traditional customs
and mores. A break with the latter is prerequisite to economic
progress ... What is, therefore, required amounts in reality to
social disorganization. Unhappiness and discontentment in the
sense of wanting more than is obtainable at any moment is to
be generated. The suffering and dislocation that may be caused
in the process may be objectionable, but it appears to be the
price that has to be paid for economic development: the
condition of economic progress.
As governments of the Mekong Region are intensifying their
efforts towards "development", the concept and objectives of
"development' should be considered, while its consequences
need to be clarified. Questions are being asked by people
living in the region, which can form the basis for an
investigation of "development"
What is "development"
What indicates that a country or a community is, or is not,
What is the experience of "development" in a country like
Thailand, where successive governments have promoted
"development" for more than three decades?
The Assumptions and Objectives of a Catchword
"Development" is composed of a number of mutually rein-
forcing assumptions, perceptions and promises which permit
proponents - those promoting "development" - to define "de-
velopment" as both a means and an objective. Consider the
following assertions by "development" proponents, each of
which is followed by a summary of the key assumptions con-
tained in the assertion.
"The primary task of development is to eliminate poverty.
Substantial progress has been achieved over the past
twenty-five years. Average consumption per capita in
developing countries has increased by 70 per cent in real terms;
average life expectancy has risen from 51 to 63 years; and
primary school enrollment rates have reached 89 percent. If
these gains were evenly spread, much of the world's poverty
would be eliminated. Instead, more than one-fifth of humanity
still lives in acute poverty."
World Bank, World Development Report 1992:
Development and the Environment.
(1) All people who do not have a certain level of state income
and/or education, and who do not "consume", or buy, a satis-
factory amount of goods manufactured by industry, live in
(2) If all people would consume manufactured goods, live
longer, and have a primary school education, "one-fifth of
humanity" would not be living in "acute poverty".
"The Thai people are not only hospitable, but hardworking
and they have achieved fantastic economic development. If you
look at countries in Africa, they are far behind you in your
standards of living. But because you have so well developed
and because we want you to keep developing, this country
needs energy and there is no question about it."
Fritz Fischer, World Bank Executive Director for Germany,
speaking in Bangkok to village people opposing the
construction of the World Bank-financed Pak Mun
Hydroelectric Project in northeastern Thailand, October 1991.
(1) Increased electricity generation is required for "economic
(2) "Economic development' increases the "standard of living"
of every member of society.
(3) The World Bank wants Thailand to "keep developing".
(4) Even if a country has "so well developed", it still needs
(5) Local people whose livelihoods and communities will be
destroyed by a "development" project are ignorant. They do
not understand and must not question the "fundamental re-
quirements" of "economic development".
"The Lao economy is among the least developed in the world,
with an average per capita income of about US$200 (1990)."
World Bank, Staff Appraisal Report, Lao People Democratic
Republic, Forest Management and Conservation Project,
The economy of a society is not "developed" when the total
income of the population divided by the number of people
living in the country (per capita income), is less than a certain
amount as defined by economists and "development experts"
working at the World Bank office in Washington, D.C.
"Laos faces a classic development dilemma: how to earn
the most from its hydropower resources-at an acceptable
Ian Gill, Information Officer, Asian Development Bank, in
Bangkok Post, April 1994.
(1) A government that wants to "develop" a country must
destroy the natural environment, but this destruction will be
labelled an "acceptable environmental cost".
(2) "Acceptable environmental cost" will (be)
(a) not be worth calculating, according to economists working
for a government or a multi-lateral development bank like the
Asian Development Bank ADB);
(b) ignore local communities directly affected by "acceptable
environmental costs", for example, destruction of fisheries, for-
ests, and farmlands which together constitute the source of a
community's food security.
"The Mekong waters are recognized: as a common resource
that serves as a catalyst for basin and region socioeconomic
development now and in the future, as having a powerful and
destructive force in the highest of its peak flows and
inadequate to meet the needs of users in the lowest of its base
flows, and as a resource that must be planned [sic] in
conjunction with other resources of the basin to attain the
maximum benefits to all riparians."
Dr. George Radosevich, SeniorAdviser, Mekong Working
Group, United Nations Development Programme, Mekong
River Basin Draft Agreement Background, Questions and
Answers, Hanoi, November 1994.
(1) A natural, free-flowing river is either "destructive" or
"inadequate", and therefore requires "planning" so that the
river will provide "maximum benefit" to riparian states. Large
dams must be built to store flood waters, supply water for
irrigation, and generate electricity for "socioeconomic
"We're developing Thailand."
PepsiCo Foods International (Thailand), advertising
supplement explaining PFI'snackfood operations, contained in
The Nation, March 1995.
(1) Building a potato chip factory is "development".
(2) Selling potato chips is "development".
Evidently, "development" is defined as many different things
by many different proponents. Generally, proponents'
respective definitions of "development' are an attempt to
legitimize their personal, commercial, and institutional
activities. However, all proponents of "development" share the
"Poverty" - that is, lack of participation in the money economy,
lack of State-directed education, lack of toilets, etc. - is a
"Development" can solve the 'problem' of "poverty".
"Development" indicators measuring the level of a country's
"development' in relation to the United States of America are
meaningful and justifiable.
Local people, especially if they live in "poverty", must be
"developed" by external agents, usually implementing "de-
velopment" projects designed by, and for the benefit of, people
who are not members of local communities.
Democratic process and opposition to "development'
projects are not possible and are not considered legitimate by
proponents of "development'.
There is one method of "development' - the method used
by the United States and other capitalist-industrial countries to
attain their present level of "development".
A country is never fully "developed". The logic of
"development' and the capitalist-industrial economy and
society, be it in the United States or Cambodia, always requires
The natural environment, especially forest, rivers, and soil, are
"natural resources" required to fuel "development" through
logging, construction of dams, industrial agriculture, and
"Development" requires the extraction or exploitation of
"natural resources' - the destruction of the natural environment
"planned" and "managed" by outsiders (often foreign
Any natural resource extractive, and/or capital- or technology -
intensive, commercial activity
contributes to "development."
Proponents of "development" attempt to legitimize their as-
sumptions and actions by the use of a numerical scale by
which countries with different histories, cultures and economies
('less developed countries') are measured against the United
States. This scale is the "development indicator", measuring
everything from "gross national product" to the enrolment of
children in primary school.
According to the World Bank, "The main criterion for country
classification is gross national product (GNP) per capita.
In its World Development Report 1994: Infrastructure for
Development, the World Bank helpfully defines GNP:
"GNP measures the total domestic and foreign value added
claimed by residents. It comprises GDP plus net factor income
from abroad, which is the income residents receive from
abroad for factor services (labor and capital) less similar
payments made to nonresidents who contributed to the domestic
GDP measures the total output of goods and services for
final use produced by residents and non-residents, regardless
of the allocation to domestic and foreign claims. It is calculated
without making deductions for depreciation of "manmade"
assets or depletion and degradation of natural resources."
In other words, all economic activities reported to, or
monitored by, the State contribute to the calculation and
measurement of GNP, and consequently determine a country's
standing in relation to other countries. Other "development
indicators" are the same. "Life expectancy", "fertilizer
consumption", "energy production" and "consumption",
"structure of merchandise exports", "total external debt",
"percentage of age group enrolled in education" and "married
women of childbearing age using contraception" are just a few
"development indicators" used to compare countries.
As the British journal, the Ecologist points out, the type of
indicator has never been particularly important, however. What
matters is that there is one. If a society can be made to measure
itself against other societies along a common yardstick, it will
soon have to admit that many of its "differences" with them are
actually"deficiencies" requiring "aid" and susceptible to
technical attack. It will have to acquiesce in its definition as a
"winner" or "loser" according to its position along some
(generally numerical) scale.
"Development indicators"serve two purposes; to convince a
government that the country it governs needs development, and
to maintain the historical role of United Nations agencies,
transnational corporations and capitalist-industrial countries as
the providers of "assistance" for "development" of 'less
Any country's "development ' can only be considered a 'success'
or 'failure' if "development" proponents select certain
information and present it as official "development indicators".
The selected information displayed in indicators serves at least
four purposes for the proponents of "development":
to show a country's success or failure in "development",
success or failure indicating the 'need' for more "development";
to use numerical measurements so as to easily compare
"developing' countries with "developed" countries, the
numerical shortcomings of the "developing' countries
indicating the 'need' for more "development".
to use average', 'per capita' and other 'national level
measurements to produce a general picture of a society and
"development", concealing social, economic, political and
regional inequalities created and exacerbated by capitalist-in-
dustrial "development", thereby indicating the 'benefits' and
'need' for more "development";
to compare the economy of a country 10, 20 or 30 years
ago, in which the majority of people did not engage, or only
occasionally engaged, in a money-based exchange economy,
with the present economy, in which the majority of people are
now compelled to participate in money-based exchange, to
indicate "economic growth" and the 'benefits' of, and need' for
"Development indicators" measure what "development"
proponents assume to be important. "Indicators" also only
reveal things that can be measured by a State bureaucracy -
"GNP", "literacy". "fertility", "school enrollment", etc. In
essence, the data relating to a small sector of a society -
State-owned and privately-owned commercial enterprises,
State education and health services - is used to calculate
"averages", "per capita", and "per thousand' indicators of
In reality, "development indicators" are always used to force
the social groups with less political, economic, and/or social
influence (be it at the village, national, or international level) to
accept subordination, prejudice, narrow-mindedness or outright
racism. For example, when the members of a number of ethnic
Lisu communities who have lived in northern Thailand for de-
cades requested, in the Thai language, Thai citizenship for
themselves and their families, a government official with the
Department of Public Welfare justified rejection of the
applications because, "As most of them can't speak, read or
write Thai, to include them as citizens would mean changing
our literacy rate, number of people who have toilets,
Thus, "development indicators" are based on a fascinating
intellectual trick; "indicators" of those activities in a society
which correspond with the assumptions of "development' pro-
ponents, combined with certain, narrow, economic or social
characteristics that the State bureaucracy is capable of
measuring at a national level, produces "development
indicators". Indicators useful for ranking countries in the
international "development" competition, but absolutely
useless in determining the effects and impacts of "development'
on the rivers, forests and livelihoods of local communities.
The Case of Thailand
The "main criterion for country classification" is, according to
the World Bank, gross national product. GNP will be the
"main criterion' for examining Thailand's "development
success story", and for revealing the unimportance of
In 1992, the average per capita gross national product in Thai-
land was US$1,840. What does this mean to an individual
resident of Thailand? Quite possibly nothing.....
Using the same methods as the proponents of "development"
the regional income differences would be ignored in the
calculation of 'national average income per household. (It
should be noted that, contrary to the claims of many NGOs and
government agencies, differences in income between regions
does not represent a failure of "development" but rather the
predictable outcome of capitalist-industrial "development".
Indicators of financial income are designed to provide statistical
evidence of "poverty". By its very nature, the "income"
indicator excludes all non-monetary social work and human
nature relationships that ensure the food and livelihood security
of local communities.)
Thus, "national average annual household income" can be
calculated as the average of the regional and Bangkok "aver-
age",equaling US$244. This is a remarkable difference when
compared to the GNP per person which the Thai government
and the World Bank report as US$1,840. But the income of
US$244 is per "household", while the GNP amount is per
person. For the sake of comparison, and if we assume that the
average Thai household has four members (an extremely con-
servative estimate), the average annual income per person in
Thailand is US$61.
Clearly, GNP per person does not "indicate" development of
anything more than the business dealings of a small sector of a
country's society. Nor does the above calculation of annual
average income per person indicate a "failure" of development.
Income, GNP, economic growth, or the number of toilets in a
country is not an indicator of anything more than the existence
of a bureaucracy.
Of passing interest, however, is the information that is the basis
of a calculation of Thailand's GNP per resident of Thailand as
US$1,840. If Thai society's business sector receives the
majority of the national income, which is then divided by the
population of Thailand (58 million people in 1992) to equal
US $1,840, then there must be massive differences between the
monetary income of the business sector (a minority of the
population), whose income represents most of the data used to
calculate GNP per person, and the monetary income of the ma-
jority of Thai society.
The National Statistical Offices's analysis of the distribution of
financial income amongst different social groups provides
clear evidence of massive and growing income disparity within
Thai society. In 1976, the richest 10% of the Thai population
received 33.4% of the total national income, while the poorest
40% of the population received 15.8% of nation's income. By
1986, the richest 10% of the population increased its share to
39.2% of the national total income, and the poorest 40% had
become poorer, receiving only 12.5% of the nation's income.
During the same I0-year period, only the richest 20% of the
Thai population increased their share of the national income,
while the other 80% of Thai people experienced drastic
declines in their share.
"Development" that deprives people of the forests, rivers and
means of livelihood and forces them into cities as labourers
reveals that this type of "development" centres around urban
areas, and draws the dispossessed rural people into the city.
There are now more than one million people living in 1,500
slums throughout Bangkok, and these numbers do not include
tens of thousands of people living under bridges, living col-
lectively in dingy apartments, or simply on the streets.
According to Dr. Jermsak Pinthong of Bangkok's Thammasat
University, "The economic prosperity we see is an illusion. It
hides a picture of the majority of people who are disadvantaged.
If you maintain that the nation's development is a success, you
have to ask: success for who? For the industrialists, yes. But
for the common people, I doubt that it is."
Destruction of the Environment as "Indicator" of
"Development" In 1957, the military regime of Field Marshal
Sarit Thanarit initiated the process of Thailand's "economic
development" and its integration into the global market
economy. Thanarit invited a team of World Bank advisers
from Washington, D. C., to advise high-level Thai bureaucrats
in a study of the country's economy and to recommend policies
to promote economic development.
In 1958, the Thanarit regime initiated economic policies to
provide, according to the World Bank, "essential infrastructure
and investment incentives for the private sector." This policy
began Thailand's process of economic "development by export
- oriented industrialization and a period of intensive extraction
and exploitation of natural resources such as forests, rivers,
and ground minerals.
Over the past three decades, the Thai economy has grown (that
is to say, GDP has increased) at an average of seven per cent
per year, with GDP growing at an average of over 11%
between 1985 and 1990. But as Lester Brown of the Wash-
ington-based Worldwatch Institute has observed, "glowing
economic reports ... are possible when the policies that
generate them are destroying the resource base."
This is exactly what has happened in Thailand's "development'.
Between 1961 and 1985, at least 125,000 square kilometres of
forest land (about one quarter of the country's land area) was
deforested, largely by logging companies and by large
landholders and settlers growing upland export crops.
In the three decades prior to 1980, the area of land under cash
crops. (cassava, maize and sugar-cane for export to Japan and
the European Community) increased by 800%, destroying
over 50,000 square kilometres of upland forest.
Between 1976 and 1986, the mangrove forest cover of
Thailand's coastal areas decreased from over 3,200 square
kilometres to approximately 1,920 square kilometres. Over
1,000 square kilometres of this mangrove forest was replaced
by shrimp farms raising black tiger prawns for export to Japan-
Since 1960, over 2,000 square kilometres of forests have
disappeared under the reservoirs of large hydroelectric dams.
The above figures also indicate some of the central require-
ments of capitalist-industrial "development'. The forests and
rivers, and the communities which depend on them for food
and health security, must be "developed" to produce wood,
hydroelectricity, irrigation, crops for export. This "develop-
ment" destroys the forests, rivers and communities,
transforming self-sufficient food producers into indebted and
landless families. These families become the "cheap labour"
essential for ensuring that Thai and foreign companies build
factories and for the World Bank-driven goal of "development"
by "export-oriented industrialization." It is this dynamic of
destroying nature-based means of livelihood, the consequent
loss of the food security of rural families and communities, and
their transformation into indebted farmers and landless
labourers that ensures, in the words of one Thai farmer, "The
poor make the rich richer, the rich make the poor poorer."
People's Views on "Development" in Thailand
As the previous sections have shown, "development" is defined
by its proponents to include just about anything they plan,
manage, implement or build. "Development" is a politically
powerful concept which has become an obsession for
governments and a catchword for the media and education
system, politicians, bureaucrats, businesspeople and other
members of society as well. "Development" and its proponents
constantly proclaim that not only is Thailand's "development"
a success, but that any problems that are occurring in society
can only be solved by more "development".
Is there anyone in Thailand challenging the concept of de-
velopment" or its programmes and projects?
Yes. Throughout Thailand, from Bangkok to the most remote
areas of the country, local communities, non-governmental
organizations (NGOs), student groups, and independent
academics are working together to prevent the destruction of
forests and rivers, farms and communities, and to reject the
dominant definition of "development".
Community Culture and Nature
"The forest is the source of the streams we use for farming and
drinking water. We also have to rely on the forest for wood
when we need to build a house or make farming tools. We
preserve the forest so that every year, when we need wood to
repair the muangfaai [traditional irrigation system], there is
some place to find it. Every day we need to go into the forest
to collect bits of dry wood to use as firewood. We use the forest
as grazing grounds for our cows and buffalos and we collect
bamboo shoots, mushrooms, fruits and vegetables to eat.
When we're sick we depend on herbal medicines from the forest.
There we find many of the things we need to make a living.
The forest has bestowed kindness on us, and we respect it in
return. It helps protect us and allows us to live in harmony.
We make offerings to the sacred spirits of the forests and
mountains every year. The spirits of our ancestors, when they
die, reside in the forest. So we have to preserve the forest also
because it is the residence of people we pay respect to and
because it is close to us and part of the villagers' hearts." Village
elder, Thung Yao village, Lamphun Province, northern Thai .
It is local people who are leading this movement to defend
their communities, livelihoods and natural environment. A
long- established Moslem community of Bangkok refuses to be
evicted to permit the construction of a highway, defending
their community and places of worship. Fishing communities
work for years to prevent the construction of a dam or
destruction of mangrove forests by industrial shrimp
production, as these types of "development' destroys their
fishing based means of livelihood. Farming communities work
to ensure they have legal rights to manage and conserve their
forests, contesting the State's assumed right to own all forests in
the country. Still other farmers reject the chemical intensive
agriculture that poisons their children and the earth instead
adopting traditional agricultural methods and often improving
those methods with their own innovations.
After more than 30 years of "development", local communities
throughout Thailand have received some benefits and have
experienced harmful impacts. These learning experiences of
the Thai people means that there are many perspectives about
"development". But these experiences, combined with a heri-
tage of self-sufficient and ecologically sustainable means of
livelihood, makes many Thai rural people the most genuine
experts about "development".
What are they saying about their experience of their own ways
of living and their experiences with "development'?
"There is a close relation between the Mun River and the
people. If the river is destroyed the fish will be gone forever.
The Mun River is the life of the people and the community."
Gimboong Jomkamsing, spokeswoman of fishers of Wang
Sabaeng Dai village, opposing construction of the Pak Mun
dam on the Mun River, Northeast Thailand, 1991.
"Our family is a victim of development. All Isan [Northeast
Thailand] people used to envy us for living in the most pros-
perous area in the region. But now, we have lost everything of
value, and the authorities just tell us that we have to make a
sacrifice. To protest peacefully is the only thing I can do. We
have already lost our home and our land and been forced to
give up our profession [as fishers]. So here we are, to beg the
government to give us some help."
Charoen Kluikaew, spokeswoman of fishers, Hua Heo
village, location of the Pak Mun dam on the Mun River,
Northeast Thailand, 1994.
"The minister-in-charge does not give us any importance. He
does not care about poor people like us. What about our
family's future if we are relocated from homes where we have
shared life for generations?"
Soon Meangkul, Bor Kaew village, targeted by Royal For-
estry Department for eviction from watershed forest,
Chiangmai Province, 1994.
"It's like a fish being hit on the head, then shivering with pain
until death takes over. That's what its like to be evicted."
Khampai Boonkorb, assistant village head, Tad Rin Tong
village, speaking of his family's experience with forcible
eviction from National Forest Reserve by the Royal Thai
Army, Northeast Thailand, 1992
"We Karens have a taboo against cutting down trees that keep
water in the ground, like "pradoo luerd" or "takhian". If we
cut them down, the creeks will go dry. But the loggers cut any
trees they fancy, the 'pradoo' and the 'takhian' in particular
because they fetch good prices. So who are really the
Paleh, Elder, Tipuyeh village, responding to claims by Royal
Forestry Department that the Karen destroy forests, Khao
Laem National Park, western Thailand, 1992.
"We normally do not cut down big trees because we are afraid
of the spirits' wrath. There are also large patches of forest we
don't touch because we believe that certain ghosts live there.
But the [Christian] missionaries teach that such fears are
meaningless. So the converted Karens begin to chop down the
trees, and when no bad things happen, they cut more and more."
Pa Kwi, Leader, Maelu Village, describing destruction of
forest and culture by "development", northern Thailand, 1992.
"When I was a boy, our village was surrounded by dense forest.
There were tigers and lots of big trees, some two metres in
diameter. When I was about 30, 1 saw the forest beginning to
disappear, but then there was still water in the streams. Fifteen
years later the stream water had disappeared too. Now we
only have artesian wells which are so inadequate that people
fight over it."
Pat Kabkate, village elder, on the impacts of logging,
northern Thailand, 1990.
"The forest is a treasure. It protects our village and it is our
commitment to protect it."
Leaders of Hua Hin and Pak Klong villages, speaking of
conserving the forest against destruction by industrial shrimp
farming, southern Thailand, 1992.
"During the time of my father, he could find many fish below
the (wood) dam. At the dam there were many fish, because the
water flowed through the dam, and the fish like to come to live
around the dam. But now there is a concrete dam. Sometimes
the water flows below the darn, sometimes the dam stops water
flowing. The fish have no where to live, to hide. The concrete
dam cannot be used by the fish. The concrete dam causes the
disappearance of fish from the river."
Pho Boonmanant, Elder, Gad Village, Mae Wang watershed,
northern Thailand, 1993.
"I would like to say it's because of development--development
by all organizations. Social workers always see the Akha as
uneducated, backward and dirty. The come to develop us
without studying our indigenous knowledge and lifestyle."
Aju Jupoh, Director Association for Akha Education and
Culture in Thailand, speaking of the loss of Akha ethnic group
culture and tradition, 1994.
"EGAT never asked me or any of these people about the fish,
our river, or the dam ... No one from EGAT ever asked us
what we thought. They only told us what we have to do."
Boonthung Temdee, fisher, Huai Hai village, responding to
statement by Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand
(EGAT) official that EGAT had consulted villagers before
building the Pak Mun dam, northeast Thailand, 1992.
"Isn't it strange? People in the old days didn't have to go to
school, and they could take care of themselves. Now, we live
in an advanced world. Our youngsters are educated, but they
cannot even help themselves, let alone help their parents as
good children should. They learn more, and they no longer
respect their parents. Nor the spirits. And I see more
accidents, illnesses, more problems. It's strange."
Konkaew Intakon, Craftsman, northern Thailand, 1992.
"Development" and its proponents make many promises.
These promises are often made to people living in the urban and
rural areas by politicians, government and business leaders who
control information supplied to the people by television,
newspapers and radio. These promises, and the consequent
"development" policies, programmes, and projects are often
accepted by the general public, few of whom receive any other
information about the destruction of communities and nature
by "development'. As a result, the source of many of the
problems emerging in societies because of the exploitation of
humans and nature required by 'developments are not fully
understood by the general public. When some individuals start
asking questions about the exact benefit of "development" to
certain communities or cultures, official "development
indicators" are put forward as proof that, indeed, "development"
is beneficial and, to use the words of the German Executive
Director to the World Bank, "there is no question about it."
"Development"' is a concept that has produced an entire in-
dustry composed of bankers, politicians, bureaucrats, 'expert'
consultants, dam engineers, road builders, chemical engineers,
economists and dozens of other professions. This
"development industry" is a mufti-billion dollar business that
includes corporations and governments of the South and North,
and which receives its political and financial support from the
governments of the "developed" countries through United
Nations agencies including the World Bank, Asian Develop-
ment Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization, and the
United Nations Development Programme.
Apparently, "development 'policies, programmes and projects
are specifically designed to fulfill the requirements of the capi-
talist-industrial economy, of which the "development industry"
is an important component. But "development" of a capitalist-
industrial economy demands the destruction of cultures,
societies and the natural environment of the Mekong Region.
If the people of the region accept "development" and their
economies are integrated into the global capitalist-industrial
economy, will the people also accept that their economies will
always be controlled by bankers and business-men - many of
whom would never set foot in the region?
The challenge for the people of the Mekong Region is to ana-
lyze "development". If "development" can never benefit more
than a minority of a society, while the lives and livelihoods of
the majority of people are sacrificed for the benefit of the mi-
nority, is that the path of "development" which societies of the
Mekong Region should follow'.?
The "eastern traditions" of which Mahatma Gandhi spoke are
also the traditions of the peoples of the Mekong Region-the
knowledge of living with the land, forests and rivers, learned
over many generations. Perhaps these traditions would inform
us as to whether we should put the lives of our children at risk
by accepting a concept less than 50 years old, a concept based
on prejudice, and a concept that has already caused so much
destruction and misery in Thailand and the countries of the
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