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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Workshop, regional coalition put Mekong dams on agenda

Workshop, regional coalition put Mekong dams on agenda

The Don Sahong dam, which will sit on the Mekong close to the Laos border, is just one of 11 planned for the lower reaches of the river.

RIVER PROJECTS

Two hydropower dams are slated for construction on the Cambodian stretches of the Mekong River: the Sambor dam, in Kratie province; and the Stung Treng dam, further north in Stung Treng province. They are just two of 11 dams planned for the lower Mekong.

ENVIRONMENTAL scientists say a hydropower development planned by the Lao government on the Mekong River will have far-reaching downstream effects, including disruption to fisheries and endangered aquatic wildlife inside Cambodia.

The concerns came as civil society groups, environmental scientists and government officials gathered for a workshop Tuesday at Phnom Penh's National Institute of Education to discuss the likely impacts of the 240- to 360-megawatt Don Sahong dam, slated for construction just inside the Lao border.

"The Don Sahong dam threatens the rich local subsistence and commercial fisheries in Laos and could also impact fisheries in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, with repercussions for food security and the region's economy," said Yumiko Kura, regional programme manager of the World Fish Centre, during the workshop.

Touch Seang Tana, a Cambodian specialist on dolphins and chairman of the Commission for Mekong River Dolphin Conservation and Ecotourism Development, said that the blocking of fish migration routes will lead to a sharp reduction  in fish catches in Stung Treng and Kratie provinces.

"Dams create hydropower energy that will increase the [country's] economic potential, but they could also destroy environmental resources," he said.

The daylong workshop, organised by the Rivers Coalition in Cambodia and the government's Fisheries Administration, was to "share information and increase awareness" about the dam and its likely effects, according to a statement released Monday.

Power Surge: The Impacts of Rapid Dam Development in Laos, a report released by US-based advocacy group International Rivers in September, claims that the projects earmarked for the deep valleys of southern Laos will have far-reaching effects across the border in Cambodia.  

If approved, the report argues, Don Sahong would set "a dangerous precedent" for seven other projects under consideration on the Lao stretches of the Mekong.

Anti-dam coalition

The workshop came ahead of the launch of Save the Mekong, a regional coalition that aims to halt the 11 dam projects currently planned on the river in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. Eight more dams are planned for the upper reaches of the river inside China.

As part of its launch in Bangkok Thursday, the coalition will present Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva with a petition signed by 15,000 people protesting the unrestrained development of the river.

Ouk Vibol, head of the Fisheries Conservation Unit at the Fisheries Administration, told the Post that it had established a technical working group to formulate a 10-year conservation plan, which would take into account the projected effects of hydropower dams.

"We are trying to include [dam] projects into our 10-year study," he said, but could not say whether the study would lead to changes to planned hydropower developments.

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