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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - $350m dam planned for Kampong Thom

$350m dam planned for Kampong Thom

Govt seeks foreign bids for construction of major project

CAMBODIA is seeking international bid s to construct what would be one of the country's biggest dams, on the Sen River in Kampong Thom province, as part of a series of projects aimed at boosting electricity production and agriculture.

Using US$350 million loaned from Kuwait, the government plans to begin construction of the 40-megawatt dam by 2011, said Chan Yutha, chief of Cabinet of the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology. The project would take a further five years to complete, he added, meaning it would be scheduled for use by 2016.

Nine megawatts of power and water from the dam will be supplied to 130,000 hectares of land near the project, according to current plans. The remaining water would be distributed throughout Kampong Thom and Preah Vihear "for other uses" Chan Yutha told the Post.

One of the main aims of the development would be to boost rice production, Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong said on January 16 after the Kuwaiti loan was finalised. "We expect that the loan will help produce rice twice a year," he said.

Rice, one of Cambodia's main exports, is harvested just once a year. The last time the Kingdom attempted to harvest rice more than once annually was under the Khmer Rouge regime.

Victor Zona, the deputy general director of the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, said the dam was vital for developing the rural economy: "The project provides a lot of benefits for the agricultural sector and the overall economy because water for irrigating rice fields and power for various uses will be produced," said Victor Zona. He added it would be the first hydroelectric project in Cambodia directly aimed at agriculture.

From 2012, further dams - on the Atay River and Ta Tai River - are planned for Koh Kong and Pursat provinces, respectively. At present, of Cambodia's three million hectares of arable land, only 44 percent has a direct water supply that can be used for irrigation.

But while the government has lauded the economic benefits of its development plans, concerns remain over the value of such projects and their environmental impact.

"This is among the biggest projects we have ever had, so the Ministry of Water Resources should carefully study their impact on our society," said Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Centre for the Study and Development of Agriculture.

He acknowledged that the benefits could be huge, but added, "If we have millions of dollars [to spend]", then smaller irrigation projects might be considered instead.

Ngy San of River Coalition in Cambodia said the government must also weigh the negative effects such dam projects would have on the environment and begin a dialogue with the Cambodian people in a bid to get the most from similarly large investments.

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