Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hydro standards ‘below par’, study finds




Hydro standards ‘below par’, study finds

A worker carries empty concrete bags past the Kamchay hydropower dam in Kampot province the day it came online in 2011.
A worker carries empty concrete bags past the Kamchay hydropower dam in Kampot province the day it came online in 2011. Pha Lina

Hydro standards ‘below par’, study finds

Chinese money accounts for the overwhelming majority of investment in Cambodia’s anaemic energy sector, but while the government has been happy to take Beijing’s loans for the construction of hydroelectric plants, a study published last month found that such investment came with both ecological and economic consequences.

Taking as a case study the Chinese-built Kamchay hydropower dam in Kampot province, the paper – written by Amsterdam Free University’s Heng Pheakdey – examines the roots and consequences of China’s interest in Cambodia’s underdeveloped electricity generation facilities.

Two-thirds of Cambodia is currently without reliable access to electricity, according to Pheakdey, and a 2009 Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy publication on the future of Cambodian energy production maps out a plan to remedy the shortfall through investment in hydroelectricity, with hydroelectric slated to account for half of all energy output by 2020.

The ministry told Pheakdey that Chinese firms have invested more than $1.6 billion in Cambodian energy projects. But the problem, according to Pheakdey, is that many Chinese dams fail to meet international standards, with social and environmental damage often resulting.

“While the economic gains from the dam have not yet materialized, local communities have seen their income reduced and their livelihood disrupted,” the paper reads.

Economically, the study found women suffered disproportionately to men thanks to sources of bamboo – the sale of which many relied on for their income – becoming more dangerous to reach. Workers on the dam also reported being paid wages insufficient to feed their families.

Ecologically, the water quality in the estuary from the dam to nearby Kampot town worsened considerably, and environmentalists warn that the project will result in a “notable loss of forest biodiversity and wildlife habitat”, Pheakdey found.

China, meanwhile, is “indifferent” to whether the projects are profitable, Pheakdey says, but pursues them because it “finds Cambodia’s strategic geographical location vitally significant to increase its influence in the region”.

Tracy Farrell, of environmental NGO Conservation International (CI), said that while she wasn’t familiar with the Kamchay case specifically, a recurring theme of Cambodian hydropower projects is a lack of prior investigation into potential social and environmental fallout.

“It’s not enough to do a localised environmental impact assessment; there needs to be wider assessment of diverted waterways and impact downstream,” Farrell said. “Normally fisheries are a big issue. But also, if you’re diverting water, changes to natural flooding could impact rice production.”

Carl Thayer, an emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales, believes the Cambodian government accepts Chinese funding for projects because they provide political capital.

“It shores up the legitimacy of [Prime Minister] Hun Sen and the [ruling] Cambodian People’s Party,” Thayer said.

And while the Cambodian government appears happy to accept the Chinese investment, Chinese investors are happy to turn a blind eye to factors other donors might take issue with, he said. “China does not operate with the same concerns others do over corruption and transparency.”

MOST VIEWED

  • School reopening to be postponed until November

    Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron on Tuesday wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen requesting a delay of school reopening across the Kingdom until November, when the new academic year begins. In his letter, Chuon Naron said the postponement is warranted to avoid the new

  • Foreigners in Kingdom must now register in FPCS system

    The Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Immigration (GDI) announced that it would not grant visa extensions to foreigners staying in Cambodia if their names are not listed on the Foreigners Present in Cambodia System (FPCS) by July 1. Foreign nationals can register in the

  • Covid-19 at ‘alarming rate’, health ministry says

    The Covid-19 risk level for individual transmission is at an “alarming rate” in the Kingdom and its probability is “not low”, warned Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine. “Cambodia’s coronavirus scenario is classified as being at an early stage of the pandemic because of ongoing

  • Mandatory quarantine for 30,000 workers begins

    Some of the roughly 30,000 workers from factories and enterprises across the Kingdom who went on leave during Khmer New Year began their government-imposed 14-day quarantine on Monday. Speaking at a press conference while visiting workers at the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone on Monday, Ministry

  • Unemployed to get $40 per month

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training has instructed enterprises, business owners and travel agencies in five provinces to prepare the proper forms for the suspension of employment contracts. This, it said, will make it easier for the ministry to transfer $40 a month to workers

  • Gov’t travel ban flouted

    While the majority of Cambodians have paid heed to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s order to stay put and not travel during the Khmer New Year – the holidays of which were also postponed – several hundred have left Phnom Penh nonetheless. They have allegedly breached provincial

  • G20 energy ministers struggle to finalise oil output cuts

    Top oil producers struggled to finalise production cuts during a virtual summit held by Group of 20 (G20) energy ministers on Friday, despite US President Donald Trump’s mediation efforts to end a standoff with Mexico. The final G20 communique appeared to gloss over simmering divisions

  • Kingdom revises travel restriction order

    The government on Friday eased the district and provincial border restrictions issued on Thursday. People are now allowed to cross districts within their provinces. Phnom Penh and Kandal province are to be treated as a single region where people are allowed to travel freely. In

  • Private schools struggling

    The Cambodian Higher Education Association has claimed that 113 private educational establishments are facing bankruptcy because of their inability to pay rent and staff salaries in light of nationwide school closures caused by the Covid-19 outbreak. It said the financial trouble started when the Ministry of

  • Khmer New Year holidays postponed

    In an effort to halt Covid-19 infections in the Kingdom, Prime Minister Hun Sen has postponed the Khmer New Year holidays scheduled from April 13 to 16. While the people will not have their usual break, nor will there be any public celebrations or gatherings at pagodas,