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Cambodia ignored in dam environmental study

Cambodia ignored in dam environmental study

Cambodia had no warning as to the likely effects of the Yali Falls dam, because no

study was done by the Vietnamese authorities or international agencies involved in

its construction.

As the dam has neared completion recently and test runs of the spillway were undertaken,

water surged down the Se San river into Cambodia, causing the deaths of five people

and inundating farm land and disrupting river flows.

The $730 million project is situated near the Cambodian border in the central highlands

of Vietnam.

Water from the dam flows into the Se San river which then travels through Ratanakiri,

entering the Mekong near Stung Treng, but none of this was taken into consideration

during the planning or building phases.

The only Environmental Impact Assessment of the project in effect assumed that Cambodia

did not exist.

The $1.19 million Swiss Government-funded report commissioned by the Mekong River

Commission from Electrowatt Engineering, a Swiss-based consulting firm, avoided looking

at the effects of the dam on Cambodia by limiting the area it deemed to be affected.

"For the purpose of this study, the downstream area has been defined as an area

eight kilometers long and one kilometer wide below the dam," the Electrowatt

report says.

Attempts by the Post to clarify with the MRC why only one assessment was done, and

such a limited one at that, were unsuccessful.

However, environmental researcher Chris Lang said that he interviewed a project officer

for the Mekong River Commission in 1995, who told him that "the downstream impacts

of the dam have not been discussed with the Cambodian authorities, as in 1991 UNTAC

had not gone into Cambodia, and the position was unsafe."

"Cambodia was not a member of the Interim Mekong Committee. Now that Cambodia

is at peace it has been reintroduced into the Mekong River Commission."

However it is far from clear that, even if Electrowatt had included Cambodia in the

study, they would have given sufficient weight and warning to the consequences of

the project.

A report on Electrowatt commissioned by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation

criticized the company for recommending that dams be built even in the face of serious

problems.

The report gave the examples of the Senegal River project which caused an escalation

in the conflict between Senegal and Mauritania, the Manantali dam which caused an

infestation of water-borne diseases so bad donors refused funding to finish the project,

and the Theun Hinboun dam in Laos which blocked fish migration, destroyed dry-season

water resources and severely under estimated the costs of resettlement and migration.

In the case of the Yali Falls dam the report criticized Electrowatt for its attitude

to the indigenous hill tribes.

The reports says: "The EIA takes little account of the traditions and culture

of the Jarai and Bahnar villagers to be evicted by the project, and adopts a patronizing

attitude toward their way of life. For example, the EIA consultants state: 'It is

understood that an effective support is required since the affected populations belong

mainly to the mountain (minority) tribes. Their knowledge regarding modern agricultural

production systems is limited as well as their thinking regarding economic terms'."

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