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Northern Thailand Worries over Kok River Dam Project

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A boat journey on the Kok River (Mae Kok)


CHIANGRAI – Reports of the United Wa State Army (UWSA)’s preparations to build a dam over the Kok that flows from Burma’s Shan State into Thailand and drains into the Mekong has stirred up concern among Thai communities in Chiangmai and Chiangrai, according to sources from the Thai-Burmese border.

The river originates in the Daen Lao Range, Shan State, Burma. It flows eastwards across the Burma-Thailand border, coming in at the Thai border town of Taton (most often spelled Thathon). It flows to Mae Ai district, Chiang Mai Province. Most of its length in Thailand is in Chiang Rai Province where it passes Mueang Chiang Rai District after which it bends northeastwards and flows through Mae Chan, Wiang Chai and Chiang Saen districts.

“If it’s completed, the Kok will be like the Mekong during the dry season,” said a local businessman in Chiang Saen at the Golden Triangle, where Burma, Laos and Thailand meet.

The level of the Mekong, during the dry season, between November and May each year, has dropped to a level which makes navigation between China and Thailand almost impossible. Countries downstream have blamed it on dams built upstream by China.

“More than 100 villages comprising some 13,000 families working on 130,000 rai (48,000 acres) of farmland in Chiangmai’s Mae Ai and Chiangrai’s Muang and Chiang Saen districts will be affected,” said an official acquainted with environmental issues. “Both farming and tourism will be crippled.”

Although details are still lacking, the following are the data collected by the local people:

  • The site is near Doi Pong Tawng, some 30 km north of Thai-Burmese border
  • The height of the mountains on both sides of the Kok is about 80 meters, the distance between them about 150-200 meters and the width of the river 15-20 meters at the project site
  • It is a 5 year project, 2013-2018
  • 500 Chinese engineers will be building it at an estimated cost of 400-500 million baht ($ 14-17) million)

Hydropower and mine projects inside Wa controlled areas have been given the greenlight by Naypyitaw during President’s Office Minister U Aung Min’s visit on 4 December, according to Sino-Burmese border sources.

Thai environmental activists had earlier protested against the extraction of lignite coal at Mongkok further upstream claiming it would contaminate both the Kok and the Mekong downstream with 1,500 tons of dust, 102 kg of mercury, 29 million tons of greenhouse gas and megatons of sulphadioxide and nitrogen dioxide each year.

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