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Locals air criticisms of controversial Lao dam

Residents along the Mekong River voiced their anger on Friday over the Lao government’s decision to move ahead with a controversial hydropower dam.

Speaking at an NGO Forum press conference, representatives from fishing communities in the northern provinces added their fears of depleted fish shoals and eradicated livelihoods to the groundswell of criticism over the Don Sahong dam.

Sok Sim, 52, a resident of Kratie’s Sambor district, said he relies on the 30,000-40,000 riel ($7.50-$10) he earns fishing every day in order to feed and support his family.

“We are concerned that our income will be lost or reduced because of the dam. We will send a petition to the Lao government if the project moves ahead,” he said.

Approximately six million Cambodians along the banks of the Mekong could be affected by the dam, according to the NGO Forum.

Fisherwoman Bou Kamkong, a resident of Stung Treng’s Thala Barivat district, said she and others in her district were unaware of the dam and its potential to jeopardise the fisheries until activists came to inform them.

“When I heard about this, I panicked. I thought about my family’s future.… We depend on fishing and the river, the river is our life,” she said.

In October, the Laos government notified the intergovernmental Mekong River Commission of an intention to unilaterally proceed with construction of the Don Sahong, designed for a channel less than two kilometres upstream of the Laos–Cambodia border.

Earlier this month, Save the Mekong Coalition, a group of concerned environmentalists and NGOs, sent letters to the four governments of the commission – Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia – urging a moratorium on the dam until further impact studies are conducted.

“There has been no report on the direct impacts that could be felt by the Cambodian people,” said Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of NGO Forum, adding that the coalition has yet to receive a reply to their letters. “I hope that the government releases information to the Cambodian people who may be affected by this [dam].”

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