SEVERAL thousand villagers living along the Sesan and Srepok rivers in Stung Treng province are facing a severe shortage of rice and clean water as a result of polluted runoff from hydropower dam developments and mine explorations, local representatives and environmental activists warned Tuesday.
“We think there are about 50,000 residents in the area, and many of them have already complained about the water becoming muddy, with red,
white and blue colours,” said Tek Vannara, programme manager for the Culture and Environment Preservation Association.
A report released by the Sesan-Srepok-Sekong (3S) Rivers Protection Network on Sunday attributed the water’s pollution to hydropower dams located on the upper reaches of the Sesan, both on the Vietnamese and Cambodian sides, and added that mining activities could also be responsible for the recent spike in pollution.
“The closing and opening of the existing hydro-dams in Vietnam, the ongoing construction of other dams, together with gold-mining explorations and other mining activities of companies upstream, both in Vietnam and Cambodia, have caused the current pollutions of the Sesan and Srepok rivers,” the report stated.
Bai Thong Nhuth, a representative of communities living along the two rivers, said the Sesan has been muddy since October, whereas the Srepok’s waters started getting dirty last November. He said he has already submitted an appeal for intervention to local authorities.
“There could be serious consequences for communities along the rivers because they use the water for drinking and cooking. We are worried that epidemic diseases may spread,” he said, and added that at least three communes in the area face imminent relocation because they cannot access clean water.
Nou Savath, a 48-year-old villager from Bangbong village along the Sesan River, said that residents and environmental groups have noticed negative effects downstream from the Yali Falls dam, on the Vietnamese side of the border, since at least 2002.
“I have faced difficulties and uncertainties for almost seven years now. Floods of muddy water kill pigs, cows and damage rice fields every day. No one is taking responsibility for this,” Nou Savath said, adding that this year he could harvest only 30 percent of what used to be an average rice yield on his 2 hectares of land.
Hak Vimean, deputy director of the Stung Treng provincial Department of Environment, said that he has submitted a report on the matter to higher authorities.
“The muddy waters are not caused by development projects in our provincial territory. The pollution may be coming from projects upstream. We are conducting an investigation on the issue, but there is no result yet,” he said.