New hydroelectric dams in Vietnam along tributaries to the Mekong are causing sudden
floods, polluting the river and destroying the livelihoods of villagers on the Cambodian
side, according to representatives from Sekong, Srepok and Sesan (3S) villages.
Representatives of the communities attending a November 20 environmental forum appealed
to the government and related international aid agencies to study all of the socio-economic
and environmental issues affecting the local communities as a result of the Vietnamese
So far two dams have been built but as many as ten more are being talked about, according
to Culture and Environment Preservation Association (CEPA) a local NGO.
Since the 750-megawatt Yali hydroelectric dam on the Sesan river began operating
in 2001 it has been blamed for more than five deaths and the collapse of fish stocks
and riverbank agriculture in the northern provinces of Stung Treng and Ratanakkiri.
Bai Thongnhok, who represented the Sesan community of five communes in Stung Treng
province, said that living conditions of the villagers have been threatened for many
years because of flooding and riverbank erosion in the Tonle Sesan.
"The flood happened suddenly and was up to six meters and it was not regular
according to its nature," Thongnhok said. "We see that the change in the
river system has caused declining fish species, forest and quality of the water."
He said that poor water quality and sudden floods are causing rashes and diarrhea
and are threatening the lives of the villagers and their livestock.
He said that the villagers had long survived on the natural resources, by farming
and fishing, but now they cannot. He said many children can not get to their schools
because of the excessive flooding.
"Our children have no school and this is increasing the illiteracy in our local
communities," Thongnhok said. "And our villagers are becoming poorer."
Another dam on Srepok
Since 2003, with the advent of the 280 megawatt Buon Koup Dam in Vietnam, communities
living downstream along the Srepok river also began to experience changes in the
river's hydrology, quality and biodiversity.
Keo Mib, chief of the Srepok communities, representing 458 families in Kbal Romeah
commune of Stung Treng province, said the water in Tonle Srepok has changed. The
commune includes families from the ethnic minorities of Phnong, Prov and Khmer-Lao.
"Our villagers were really worried about the issues of changing natural resources,
and it is having a serious impact on the living conditions," Mib said. "There
were sudden floods at several times within one day."
Mib said villagers have to sell their cows and buffalo when they can't get enough
"I have to sell my cow at the cheapest price when I have no money to transport
it to the market," Mib said. "I sold my cow. I ate manioc tubers instead
of rice and I have had a shortage of rice since 2006."
Tek Vannara, advocacy program manager of CEPA, estimated that more than 5,000 villagers
within the local communities along the 3S rivers are threatened by the environmental
impact of the dams.
Cambodia's Minister of Environment Mok Mareth told the Post that the government is
aware of the environmental impacts and the issues are being discussed with the government
"We are also concerned about the environmental impact at the local communities.
But the measures now are under process and both Cambodia's and Vietnam's governments
have worked thoroughly on the issues," Mareth said.
Hatda P. An, Mekong River Commission (MRC) Regional Flood Management Center Operation
Manager, said that there is no actual information about the downriver floods, but
the issues are in the process of being worked on by the MRC.
Vannara said the government has to encourage better contract enforcement for the
communities downriver. He said that according to a draft report obtained by NGOs,
the new dams planned on the upper Srepok river in Vietnam will result in very dramatic
changes for people living along the river on the Cambodian side of the border.
The report predicts unpredictable water fluctuations, riverbank erosion, water pollution
and serious impacts to paddy production and riverbank gardening. It also projects
considerable impacts on fish migration, stocks and species diversity.
Vannara said that although the governments, the dam investors and the MRC recognize
the environmental impact issues in Cambodia, there is no actual resolution in place
for local communities.