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Hydro report damned with faint praise

Hydro report damned with faint praise


Adraft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report on hydroelectric dams on the

Vietnamese reaches of the Srepok River was criticized as inadequate by community

leaders, NGOs, and officials from the health, environment and fisheries ministries,

at a meeting in Phnom Penh on January 12.

A fisherman makes a bamboo fish trap in northeast Cambodia.

All said the EIA ignored the downstream effects in Cambodia on the environment and

fisheries, and on the health and livelihood of people living along the Cambodian

stretches of the rivers below the dams.

Tore Hagen, vice president of SWECO Groner, which was commissioned by Electricity

of Vietnam to do the EIA, acknowledged that there were gaps in the report, which

he called a "rapid EIA report."

"We would be glad to further study EIA on the Cambodian side of the Srepok River

due to hydropower development in Vietnam if we were asked once again to do so,"

Hagen said. "We need at least one more year to complete this EIA report."

Eleven thousand people in Ratanakkiri and Stung Treng provinces living along the

Srepok River have been affected by the hydropower development upstream in Vietnam,

according to Bean Sokun, dialogue project officer of the Sesan, Srepok and Sekong

Rivers Protection Network.

Officials from environment, health and fishery ministries all described the EIA as

defective, because it stopped at the Cambodian border.

Chou Sokthang, EIA department director at the Ministry of Environment, said the report

did not identify the distance between one dam and another clearly and the distance

of the dam located in Vietnam from the border of Cambodia; she said the distance

of the dam location could influence the impact.

Shin Thongla, one of 10 community representatives from Lumphat district in Ratanakkiri,

said since 2004, the year after dams were built on the Srepok, her district has flooded

from two to three times a year, but before the dam there were no floods.

"In 2006, we had the worst flood; the water rose so fast the river flowed with

cows, pigs, chickens and ducks," Thongla said.

And Thongla said that now, when people in her community use Srepok River's water,

they get diarrhea, itchy skin, and their eyes sting.

Preventive Medicine Director Prak Piseph Raengsey of the Ministry of Health suggested

to SWECO Groner researchers that the report should study the health of people affected

by the dam.

After the meeting, community representatives from Ratanakkiri and Stung Treng and

NGO representatives said they feared there would be no good outcome from the meeting

if the governments of Vietnam and Cambodia ignored their recommendations.

They said the dam in Vietnam had caused irregular water fluctuation, deep water pools

to become shallow, and riverbank erosion.

Unnatural floods had destroyed riverside rice and farm fields, and people's property,

and unreliable water flows had caused people to abandon their riverside rice fields

and leave their homes in search of employment and food. Human and animal health had

been affected by bad water quality, and fish stock had declined, diminishing villagers


The community representatives requested that dam building on the Srepok cease and

that compensation be made for past, present and future destruction. They also asked

that donors stop financing development projects that lacked popular participation,

good governance, and clear social and environmental assessment processes.

Tep Bunnarith, executive director of the Culture and Environment Preservation Association

(CEPA), said community representatives were worried that the two governments would

accept SWECO Groner's draft EIA report without considering the community complaints

and recommendations.

"Preserving the environment does not mean keeping natural resources one hundred

percent without taking any advantage from them," Mok Mareth, Minister for the

Environment and vice chairman of Cambodia National Mekong Committee (CNMC), said

in his welcoming speech at the January 12 meeting.

"[If we did not take any benefit from the natural resources], we would have

no development at all and the country would not improve," he said.

"So the recommendations of the participants in the meeting should not be biased,

so that we can have sustainable development and reduce poverty," he said. "

The important point is to make recommendations on the EIA report to reduce the negative

impact of the hydropower development to the minimum."

Vietnam National Mekong Committee (VNMC) chairman Nguyen Hong Toan agreed to have

another meeting in March, which he said he would like held in Vietnam. It would look

more deeply at the effects of hydropower development along the Sesan River, where

the Yali Falls dam is already built and several others are proposed upstream in Vietnam

that will affect thousands of Cambodians downstream.

Bean Sokun said 50,000 Cambodians had been affected by the Yali Falls dam or would

be affected by the planned new dams on the Sesan.

VNMC's Hong Toan and CNMC's Secretary General Hou Taing Eng pledged that they would

take recommendations from community representatives, civil societies and comment

from EVN Vice President Lam Du Son to their respective governments for consideration

and asked SWECO Groner to further study EIA on the Cambodian side of the Srepok River

due to hydropower development in Vietnam.

Hong Toan said, "I think the coordination among all of us is very important.

We appreciate very much to have a consultation among the stakeholders today."

"We would like to request the two countries to consider jointly how to have

a good proposal for potential hydropower development along the three rivers - Sekong,

Sesan and Srepok," he said.


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