Despite protests from its neighbours and the international community, construction is ramping up at the proposed Don Sahong dam site in southern Laos, according to Cambodians living near the border.
“I saw at least 10 excavators, bulldozers and trucks there, and there are about 20 workers, most of whom are Chinese and some are Vietnamese,” Samrith Vanna, an activist with environmental group Khmer Moha Norkor, said yesterday.
Vanna, 34, said activity spiked last Thursday at the site, less than 2 kilometres north of the Cambodia’s Preah Rokel community in Stung Treng province, with heavy trucks and machinery brought down the Mekong on ferries.
He said construction materials such as sand and stones had arrived together with a stone mill, while workers had begun filling the river to expand the site and build a warehouse.
Vanna’s observations followed a statement by environmental group International Rivers last week that demanded the Laos government stop Malaysian company Mega First Corporation from working at the site to allow more time to study the ecological and economic impact of the proposed 260-megawatt plant.
Lower Mekong River countries Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand have also demanded the project be halted, but the company, supported by Laos, has continued undeterred, constructing an access bridge and roads.
Mega First is also continuing negotiations with China’s Sino Hydro over the construction contract.
The ongoing construction is causing concern among the many people whose livelihoods depend on the river.
Near the construction site, residents of the Preah Romkel community rely heavily on tourism centred on the critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphin, which environmentalists say will be threatened by the dam.
“Our community of thousands of people depends greatly on the river and providing the boat service for tourists to see the Irrawaddy dolphin,” Sok Laing, 62, a boat operator, said yesterday.
“We therefore will lose everything if the dam is built, because we live downstream and our village might be flooded.”
Duong Pov, Stung Treng provincial deputy governor, also fears for the future as he hopelessly watches the construction upstream.
“It is near the border and it will affect the Irrawaddy dolphins the most as well as other fish, the water current and the living conditions of people in Preah Romkil,” Pov said.
“This is an international affair and we can do nothing since it is in their territory.”
In its position statement to the Mekong River Commission, Laos has argued alternative river channels would allow for fish migration.
However, WWF-Cambodia country director Chhit Sam Ath said there are “no means to evacuate those Irrawaddy dolphins, therefore, we will totally lose them”.