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

  • Phnom Penh unveils rules for post-lockdown transition

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration issued a set of detailed guidelines for the seven days to May 12 after the capital emerges from lockdown at the onset of May 6. In the 14-page document signed by municipal governor Khuong Sreng released on the evening of May 5, the

  • SBI LY HOUR Bank Launches Cross Border Money Transfer Service between Cambodia and Vietnam on RippleNet, utilizing DLT

    SBI LY HOUR Bank Plc and Hanoi-based Tien Phong Commercial Joint Stock Bank (TPBank) on Friday launched the first Cambodia-Vietnam money transfer service in real currency via RippleNet, provided by SBI Ripple Asia Co Ltd to provide safe, fast and convenient services. SBI LY HOUR

  • Gov’t issues guidelines as lockdown nears end

    The government has issued a five-page set of instructions to be enforced when the three-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Takmao town in Kandal province ends on May 6. According to an announcement signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on May 4, the instructions cover a

  • Cambodia ready to exit LDC status

    Cambodia is well-prepared to minimise economic risks when it graduates from its Least Developed Countries status, according to a senior official at the Ministry of Commerce on May 7. Four LDCs – Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh and Nepal – met at a virtual workshop last week to explore potential

  • Nine US franchises eye Cambodia debut

    Nine famous US franchising companies are looking for business opportunities and expansion into Cambodia to build a footstep for a strong foundation in Southeast Asia. The US embassy in Phnom Penh, in partnership with the US Foreign Commercial Service and with support from the American

  • Lost in translation: ‘Starvation’ in capital’s designated red zones

    “DACH bay” is a Khmer slang meaning a “loss of income”, that could also be literally translated to «deprived of rice”, which alludes to starvation. However, civil society organisation (CSO) officials have independently confirmed the government’s prior assertions that there are no cases of