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WASHINGTON, DC -- Researchers from Resources for the Future (RFF) in the United States and Chulalongkorn University in Thailand today announce the start of their collaborative investigation of a proposed dam's impact on local forest communities -- an impact that is often not accounted for in development planning in Southeast Asia. The project will also serve as a basis for conducting similar evaluations of future development projects in the region and establish a local center of expertise in environmental economics in Bangkok.

As rising populations and growing economies in the region demand more water for residential, industrial and agricultural uses, researchers are assessing the ecological, social and cultural implications of the Kaeng Sua Ten dam, which has been proposed to control flooding from the Mae Yom River in northern Thailand. The dam would submerge Thailand's only remaining golden teak forest. Critics argue that it would devastate wildlife, destroy biodiversity that provides direct food and free services for humans, and worsen the country's already-challenging environmental problems.

Funded by a two-year grant from the Ford Foundation, the project is coordinated by RFF's David Simpson and Roger Sedjo with Chulalongkorn University's Suthawan Sathirathai. It addresses a key requirement for adopting ecologically and socially responsible development policies -- to account for all the benefits and costs of a proposed project, including the often-ignored, less apparent values that can be very important in meeting the needs of local communities. Examples of goods derived from forests that might be lost in a water development project include: wood for fuel and construction; fruits, nuts, and other food derived from forest plants and animals; grazing and foraging lands for domestic animals; rattan and other useful materials; and forest medicines. Important functions of the forest that would be lost include its source for clean water, erosion protection, nutrient cycling, and climate moderation.

Current project assessments of development projects in Southeast Asia may not fully account for community impact because the rights and interests of some local people have not been represented in existing legal systems. In many areas of the world, including Thailand, local people have traditional forms of land ownership that are often not legally recognized. Their rights to the land are not necessarily respected, their losses are not always accounted for in cost-benefit analyses of proposed projects, nor are they compensated for their loss of access to land and resources in the forest.

Researchers seek to determine three key values: the value of biodiversity that would be lost in the river valley as a consequence of flooding behind the proposed dam; the value of carbon sequestration provided by forests that would be cut in preparation of flooding; and the value of recreation and tourism opportunities lost by destroying an old-growth forest.

The project will also train local researchers to use tools and methods for evaluating these kinds of development projects. "Without this international sharing of methods and knowledge, the necessary evaluations cannot be performed on the scale that will be required as similar projects are proposed throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific Rim in the future," says RFF's Simpson.

RFF researchers will present a number of seminars and short courses at Chulalongkorn University to familiarize faculty and students with advanced techniques in environmental economics. The project's results will be incorporated into the university's curriculum for its Masters Programme in Ecological Economics.

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Resources for the Future (RFF) is an independent, nonprofit organization that aims to provide accurate, objective information to policy makers, legislators, public opinion leaders, environmentalists, and the public to help them responsibly meet the nation's and the world's long-term environmental and economic needs. For the past 45 years, researchers at RFF have analyzed issues involving forests, water, energy, minerals, transportation, sustainable development, and air pollution. They also have examined, from a variety of perspectives, such topics as government regulation, risk, ecosystems and biodiversity, climate, hazardous waste management, technology, and outer space.

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