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
"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.