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Concerns mount over dam

Concerns mount over dam

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A small boat cruises down the Sesan river past Kbal Romea village, in Stung Treng province’s Sesan district. Photograph: Adam Miller/Phnom Penh Post

Sketchy details that fail to specify when construction of the Lower Sesan 2 hydro dam will begin, or name the Chinese company involved, have villagers fearing for their future, representatives and environmental groups say.

Since the Council of Ministers announced on Friday it had signed off on the $780 million dam, set for a tributary of the Mekong River in Stung Treng province’s Sesan district, villagers have questioned how they will survive if they are forced to make way for it.

About 5,000 people are expected to be relocated, and the impact on fish and land could affect 100,000.  

Sek Mekong, chief of the nearby Srekor commune, said he expected more than 400 families in his commune alone to be evicted.

“Our standard of living will get worse, because we depend on natural resources,” he said. “How can we survive if they move us away from here?”

Meach Mean, coordinator of the civil society organisation 3S Rivers Protection Network, said a lack of details had fuelled such uncertainty.

Local authorities and companies involved needed to provide affected villagers with transparent information about relocations and include the community in discussions, he said.

“We don’t know when construction will start. We’d like to. And we’d like to know which Chinese company is involved.”

The government’s announcement about the construction of the 400-megawatt dam on the Sesan river comes amid staunch opposition from environmental groups who fear it will destroy the livelihoods of tens of thousands of fishing and farming families.

A statement from the Council of Ministers says the Hydro Power Lower Sesan 2 company, comprising an unnamed Chinese company and firms from Cambodia and Vietnam, will invest $781 million in the five-year construction project.

Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for International Rivers, said the lack of transparency about the Chinese company and expected relocations was worrying.

“People to be resettled have received little information. Early compensation drafts have not shown that upstream and downstream communities will [be compensated],” she said.

Trandem said the Lower Sesan 2 would be one of the most destructive dams in the Mekong network and the worst of the tributary projects.  

Studies have estimated it will reduce fish biomass by nine per cent across the entire Mekong basin – threatening 50 species – and cut sediment flow by as much as eight per cent.

“Given that Cambodia has voiced concerns over the Xayabuyi [dam in Laos], they should reconsider and realise they are gambling with Cambodia’s future,” Trandem said.

A decision on the Lower Sesan 2 dam had been made by only a few Cambodian ministries that did not have as much information on its risks as it did on Xayaburi, Trandem said.

National Mekong Committee secretary-general Te Navuth said yesterday the committee had not been involved in making a decision on the Lower Sesan 2.

The dam will help meet the increasing electricity needs of Cambodia, create thousands of jobs and generate $29 million a year, the Council of Ministers says. 

To contact the reporter on this story: Shane Worrell at [email protected]
May Titthara contributed to this report

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