In the wake of mass flooding, the company behind Cambodia’s first major hydropower dam used a government visit last week to distance itself from recent controversies and quell fears about the project’s alleged downsides.
In September, Kampot province experienced widespread flooding that left thousands temporarily homeless and crippled the local economy after the gates of the Kamchay Hydropower Dam were opened.
The incident was just one of many negative effects of the 194-megawatt dam the community has experienced.
But Zheng Yung, an assistant with Sinohydro, the Chinese state-owned company behind the dam, insisted that it was not at fault.
“The flooding at that time was caused by the rain since it rained for 24 hours a day for many days in a row,” he said.
He added that orders to open the dam’s gates following reports that it was filling beyond its capacity were issued by the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
An official working for the company who asked to remain anonymous later said that if the dam had not been opened “it would not have caused floods only in Kampot province but … in other provinces” too.
Yung, meanwhile, insisted that the devastating flooding had been long-forgotten.
“Everything is good now,” he said. The dam “does not only produce the electricity for the industry and production, but it also serves as a water resource for people to use on thousands of hectares of crops”.
Yung’s efforts to espouse the dam’s successes in electricity supply coincided with a blackout that put a stop to his digital presentation.
Kul Sokha, deputy director of the provincial department of Mines and Energy, said power shortages frequently happen because electricity from the dam is sold to Electricité du Cambodge, which distributes it around the country.
Sokha said about 60 per cent of people in Kampot receive electricity from the dam and “are happy with the result”.
One such person, 41-year-old farmer Van Saroeun, said that after initially having concerns about the dam, his opinion had changed.
“Now I have a different view on the dam; I think that it helps me and the state. For example, it provides water for crop cultivation and it provides electricity,” he said.
But many are not convinced.
A recent report by researchers at the University of London found that the dam has left many worse off.
The study identified issues with “energy access, livelihood changes, environmental impacts, access to natural resources and compensation”.
“Results also reveal divergence between national and local priorities, which in turn brings about an unequal distribution of costs and benefits of the Kamchay Dam between urban and rural areas,” it said.