The Waiting Game (Part 1): Rising waters to submerge Chi River Basin communities

In the past two weeks, the threat of rising waters has brought uncertainty to the lives of one community. For its residents, it is a waiting game. It is unclear when the water will stop rising and recede. It is unclear whether the community’s preparations will protect people’s property. Flooded fields, crop failure, and restoration efforts will bring financial uncertainty.

Story by Amy Bell

Photos by Abishag Cer

On October 17, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) began to increase the discharge from the Ubol Ratana Dam in Khon Kaen Province. Previously releasing 46 million cubic meters of water daily, the dam is expected to release 54 million each day until the situation improves for the over-capacity dam.

But Chi River Basin communities are already struggling with current flooding. Locals are deeply worried that their homes and farms will be submerged as the dam continues to release water in the coming weeks.

Spanning across central Isaan, the Chi River Basin includes the provinces of Chaiyaphum, Khon Kaen, Maha Sarakham, Roi Et, Yasothon, Sisaket, and Ubon Ratchathani.

The rivers throughout the Chi River Basin play a large role in the bordering communities. Its residents have used the rivers as a source of food and to irrigate their fields for generations.

Since the construction of the Ubon Ratana Dam in 1964, the region has become more prone to flooding. The dam has disrupted the natural flow of water. When over capacity, the release of water has brought a series of floods that have inundated villages.

These surges have brought a whole new meaning of the water to the people. For children, it brings excitement. It means no school and time to swim through the streets with their friends.

But for the adults, it brings fear and idleness. It is a waiting game. Farmers are eager to replant their fields since their existing harvests are ruined. Families are longing to return to their homes hoping to find their belongings intact.

19 October – The Sila community in Nam Phong District in Khon Kaen Province is home to two villages: Ban Beung E Tao and Ban Tha Kae. Divided in two villages, 400 people live in this community out of the 6.9 million people living in the Chi River Basin in Isaan

This series tells the story of the Sila river community in Nam Phong District in Khon Kaen Province. The community of 400 people is at high risk to be submerged because of its lower elevation compared to other upstream villages.

The series will focus on how the floodwater is changing the lives of Sila community members, who are eager to share their stories with the public and others facing the same challenges. They hope it will foster a discussion about flooding issues in Isaan.

Amy Bell studies Economics and Public Health at Occidental College. Abishag Cer studies Neuroscience at Agnes Scott College. Both are studying Public Health in Khon Kaen this semester.