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Flood control ‘lacking’

A mother navigates a flooded area with her child in August after water levels rose due to heavy rains and the closing of Lower Sesan II Hydropower Dam’s gates in Stung Treng province.
A mother navigates a flooded area with her child in August after water levels rose due to heavy rains and the closing of Lower Sesan II Hydropower Dam’s gates in Stung Treng province. Photo supplied

Flood control ‘lacking’

Cambodia and Vietnam currently lack a system to effectively forecast and control flooding in the Sesan and Srepok river basins, both at the national and intergovernmental level, according to a study published by the Mekong River Commission (MRC).

The commission, which monitors the Mekong River’s development, on Saturday published summaries of three recent studies on transboundary water resources management issues.

The study on the Sesan and Srepok noted “concern” at the lack of information and coordination on flooding forecasting, flood control and flood warnings in the rivers’ basins, adding that the concern is “further exacerbated by the uncertain impact of new water development projects and the impacts of climate change”.

Cambodia is routinely listed as one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change.

“Appropriate information, coordination mechanisms, policies and strategies are needed to address flood-related issues, especially to reduce casualties of downstream communities from flash floods,” the study reads.

Cambodia and Vietnam need to cooperate to set up an effective flood forecasting system and exchange sufficient data to enable early flood warnings, as well as their timely dissemination to the community level.

In 2003, flooding caused by the Yali Falls Dam in Vietnam was blamed for more than 30 deaths in Stung Treng and Ratanakkiri provinces in Cambodia.

An Pich Hadta, director of the planning division at the MRC, said the transboundary issues affect the two countries along the border, and don’t include internal water management issues, such as the operation of the controversial Lower Sesan II Dam, which “likely affects downstream riverine communities, but not upstream Vietnam communities”.

Nonetheless, Ian Baird, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has expertise on natural resources management in Southeast Asia, said the lack of flood forecasting and control in the Sesan and Srepok river basins at the national level in Cambodia is a big concern “as erratic water releases from the [Lower Sesan II Dam], designed to maximise profit from electricity sales . . . should be expected”.

“People downstream from the dam can be expected to face serious downstream impacts, and I am unaware of any plans to mitigate those impacts, or otherwise address them,” he said.

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