Community, livelihoods, development and water in Thailand

Community, livelihoods, development and water in Thailand


Thirteen students have recently returned from a 10-day field trip in Thailand where the ‘Community, livelihoods, development and water’ module of the IWC’s Master of Integrated Water Management is delivered.

Masters students in the International Development specialisation spent 10 days in Thailand learning about water management along the Pak Mun River

The field trip was led by Dr Kanowkan Manoram from Ubon University with the assistance of IWC Education Director Dr Brian McIntosh. During the trip the seven full- and six part-time students stayed with local families in the rural community of Don Sumran, Ubon Ratchathani Province in Thailand’s northeast (Isan) region. The village, located along the Mun River near the confluence with the Mekong main stream, is one of the communities affected by the Pak Mun Dam, the most controversial dam in Thailand’s history and in the Mekong region.

Students lived with local families, cooked and ate together and took part in their daily lives. They also met with the head of the village, local government managers and staff, spiritual leaders (such as the Chum, the mediator between humans and spirits, and the Buddhist temple Abbot), primary school teachers, local health officers and community health volunteers, as well as the men, women and children of the village. This enabled students to develop a broad appreciation of the lives and livelihoods of the people who live in Dom Sumran from household water supply and sanitation through domestic chores to farming activities such as growing rice, cassava, chillies and onto fishing. The students also spent time with local NGOs protesting against the Pak Mun dam and EGAT (Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand – the dam owner) to learn about the impacts, operation and future of the Dam.

Student experience

“Staying with the villagers and sharing with them their daily lives has been for me one of the highlights of the trip, along with the guidance from the wonderful Professor (Ajaan) Kanokwan,” said 2016 MIWM candidate and field trip participant Antonella Vagliente.

“We spent most of the ten day-intensive in Dom Sumran Village learning through participant observation, interviews and a variety of qualitative methods of how the Pak Mun Dam has impacted livelihoods – especially fisheries – in this community, located upstream on the Mun River,” Antonella said.

“We can read as many books as we want about how dams affect communities, but nothing compares to seeing it with your own eyes,” Antonella Vagliente, MIWM Candidate 2016.

Using learning methods such as participatory rural appraisal, field observation, interviews and group discussions, the students explored the main issues of community development, impacts of the Pak Mun Dam on local livelihoods, water resource management, water supplies and usage, hygiene, and the cultural meanings of the Mun river.

“Our days were spent getting to know village life and how people have adapted to the changes in the ecosystem and livelihoods imposed by the dam. We learned how these communities have sustained their advocacy over 20 plus years, but also how they have embraced a new life more connected to the market economy of modern Thailand,” Michael said.“The trip to Don Samrun community was skilfully put together by Ajaan Kanokwan and her team at Ubon Ratchitani University, allowing the 2016 Masters group to experience a deep immersion into the life of a dam-affected community,” said 2016 MIWM candidate and field trip participant Michael Simon.

Students walked around the village to map locations of key socio-economic and resource institutes, interviewed senior villagers and young generations, and created historical timelines and seasonal calendars to understand the transformation of rural communities and water management in the context of modernisation and Thailand’s political economy.

“We met with and interviewed villagers, visiting their homes, their fields and the river side, as well as meeting with their various local institutions (health clinic, child care centre, primary school, local government). We also met with the dam operators at EGAT, and on our day off we went downstream to the Mun-Mekong confluence, visiting the Pak Tham National Park to see the three thousand year old paintings that show the cultural connection between place, people and fish,” Michael said.

The trip also involved participation in group field work around topics including inter-generational perspectives on the dam, fish sanctuary management, adapting livelihoods to floods and droughts, and family hygiene. On the last day, the villagers performed sukwan, the essence of life ceremony, to bless the students with good luck, health and cheerful spirits.

More information

For more information about the field trip or about IWC’s Master of Integrated Water Management:



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