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Dams, climate plague Mekong

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A fisherman checks his nets on a small tributary just a short distance from the Mekong River in Kratie province last month. Photograph: Will Baxter/Phnom Penh Post

Villagers in Kratie province have long feared the proposed Sambor hydroelectric dam and the impact it could have on their subsistence fishing and riverbank agriculture.

According to Resilience on the Mekong: A Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment in North-East Cambodia, a report released by the World Wildlife Foundation on Friday, those concerns are more than warranted.

The report focuses on a 56 linear-kilometre stretch of the Mekong, between Stung Treng and Kratie provinces, known as the Mekong Flooded Forest.

This stretch of river, the report says, has “some of the most biologically significant habitats along the Mekong”.

The Sambor dam is proposed to be constructed about 20 kilometres away.

“[Sambor] is considered a key threat, with all ecosystems considered highly or extremely vulnerable, by local communities and experts alike; the dam threatens all ecosystem services, livelihoods and biodiversity values of the site,” the report states.

Water quality and fish migration would be some of the casualties of such a hydroelectric project.

“The reservoir would inundate almost all of the riverine habitats . . . and cause the loss of most species and habitats.”

Climate change, illegal clearing, illegal logging, mining and unsustainable fishing are also threats.

“Droughts, floods and changes in rainfall and temperature patterns will reduce groundwater retention and the absence of physical ecological barriers will exacerbate the impacts of extreme weather events.”

The report spells out ways to address these looming issues, including suggesting that authorities better manage the area’s natural resources, address the hydropower threat, raise the profile of the site and improve land use within it.

“Ultimately the underlying aim . . . is to reduce the vulnerability of the site by retaining its existence. [So] the Sambor dam in the very large form it is currently planned should never be built.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Shane Worrell at shane.worrell@phnompenhpost.com

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