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Concerns over Koh Kong hydropower development

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Environmentalists fear the 18mw Kirirom III hydropower dam could wreak havoc on communities in the project area

Photo by: PHOTO SUPPLIED

Residents of Koh Kong province are likely to be affected by a new hydropower dam on the Steung Pongrul river.

AHYDROPOWER dam planned for the Steung Pongrul river in Koh Kong province will affect more than 5,000 people in the proposed project area, according to local residents and environmentalists, who say nearby communities remain in the dark about the project and its likely impacts.

According to a new report published by the Rivers Coalition in Cambodia and the American Friends Service Committee, the 18-megawatt Kirirom III dam will trigger deterioration in water quality, soil erosion, flooding and the loss of land in the project zone.

The Before the Dam report states that the dam will cause "the deterioration of the local environment systems that currently supply a range of natural resources to the local community", leading to a "decline in the local quality of life".

"Dams are the very antithesis of development for the poor ... placing the livelihood of people who depend on rivers at the disposal of those who have the power to exploit them," said environmental scientist Wayne McCallum, the author of the report, at a news conference Thursday.

Moeng Mean, a community representative from Sre Ambel district, said that between 500 and 700 hectares of community forest would be flooded by the dam, calling on the government to provide compensation.

"People in the area will face flooding in the rainy season and drought in the dry," he  said. "The villagers do not reject the government's development projects, but they should provide proper solutions or compensation to farmers."

Among its recommendations, the report also calls for a more comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) involving local communities, and assurances of a "regular and transparent process of information exchange with the parties affected by the construction".

Small dam, small impacts?

Um Serey Vuth, research team leader at SAWAC, the technical consultancy handling the dam's EIA, said it had completed a full report on the project and was preparing to send the documents to the Ministry of Environment for review.

"As I see it, this project will have a small impact; it will affect a small area of community forest and a small number of households," he said.

But McCallum said that even though Kirirom III is small compared with other developments in the region, it could have adverse consequences.

"It's a comparatively smaller project, but it's going to have a big impact on the community in the area," he said. "The thing about dams is that a very little one can have as big an impact as one that is a lot bigger."

Although dams create many problems, McCallum added that there was still time to mitigate the adverse consequences of the Kirirom III project.

"There is an opportunity with this particular project to manage things in a way where that doesn't happen, where the local community and Cambodia can both be winners," he said.

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