In the past two months, students at the EarthRights School Mekong (ERSM) have been studying the impacts of large development projects, particularly dams, in the greater Mekong Region. Although funders of dams state that dams positively develop countries and reduce poverty, in reality, the result is often quite negative, particularly for rural and indigenous populations.

Large scale dams have been shown to flood villages, force people to resettle, and decreases food security by depleting fish species and flooding farmland. In addition, the energy that is generated from the dams often benefits only residents in larger cities.

The ERSM students have also learned that our dependency on non-renewable resources such as coal and oil is just as harmful. Fossil fuels have polluted our air and water, contributed to climate change, and cause respiratory illnesses.

One of two generators at the Mae Kham Pong plantSo how can we get energy that is sustainable, clean, and renewable? This is where our recent trip to Mae Kham Pong comes in. Mae Kham Pong is a village one hour north of Chiang Mai, which has been operating a micro hydropower dam for the last 30 years. The micro hydropower dam was built after the villagers told the government that they wanted electricity for their homes and schools.  The Ministry of Alternative Power helped to partially fund the micro hydropower dam, to be built on the village stream. The villagers labored and built the dam themselves. It consists of a power/control house and two generators that produce a total of 40 kw. That provides enough energy to light each home and because of the dam’s small size, it has no negative impact on the environment.

“Mae Kham Pong is a skillful community. The village is a successful example of alternative energy with a micro-hydro dam and ecotourism. When I met with the villagers, I sensed the confidence in their village.” –Burmese Student

“The villagers have a high awareness of sustainable development. I was really impressed by their micro-hydro dam and the way they have managed to maintain their community forest and preserve their culture and life style.” –Vietnamese Student

The Mae Kham Pong micro hydropower plantMae Kham Pong was a good example of decentralized and sustainable, alternative energy that does not destroy the environment and displace people.

“After the Mae Kham Pong trip, I have realized that a big dam is not the only way the government can produce electricity. There are many other ways to produce it. In order to save the earth and protect people, governments should find alternative energy sources such as solar and wind to sustain people’s livelihood. Whenever we see a beautiful forest and nature, we always smile, appreciate it, and take photos of it. Likewise, the forest wants keep its charm and sustain and give back to the people as well.” -Cambodian Student


This post was contributed by an anonymous volunteer at the EarthRights School Mekong (ERSM).