The Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology said on Tuesday it is conducting an environmental impact study after it received a proposal from Try Pheap Engineering & Construction Co Ltd to dredge the Mekong River and use the sand to develop the river bank.
The project will start from the Cambodia-Vietnam border through Kampong Cham and Kratie provinces and continue up to the Tonle Bassac river.
Ministry spokesman Chan Yutha told The Post on Tuesday that the study had begun but he could not say when it would be completed.
Yutha said the study would include reviewing satellite images – which were being obtained with the cooperation of the European Space Agency – to study the condition of the river, while the ministry would also charter a light aircraft to take pictures which would be compared with the satellite images.
He said the ministry would then inspect the river sites directly – both on the surface and underwater. The study will take a long time, Yutha said.
“We have only started the first stage – obtaining satellite images. In the second stage, we will use a light aircraft to take aerial images, so there are a lot more things that need to be done,” he said.
Yutha said other related ministries would need to conduct similar studies on the impact of the proposed development. Then there will be an inter-ministerial meeting before submitting the final assessment to the government to consider whether to deny or approve the proposal.
On May 7, Secretary of State of the Council of Ministers Chrea Sochenda wrote a letter to Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology Lim Kean Hor to confirm that Prime Minister Hun Sen had allowed the ministry to discuss the matter with other ministries and to advise on the proposal.
Try Pheap Engineering & Construction refers to its strategy as “using the river to develop the river”.
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra told The Post: “I cannot comment on this yet because no procedures have yet been put in place.
“Based on the letter, this is only a request for an assessment study. The request has not been approved by the government, and Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology Lim Kean Hor will discuss the plan with other relevant institutions first,” he said.
Fisheries Action Coalition programme manager Om Savath told The Post he hopes the government does not grant permission to Try Pheap Engineering & Construction to dredge from the bottom of the river to develop the river bank.
He expressed the belief that the work would have a serious negative impact on the river’s biodiversity and cause more river bank collapses.
“I don’t know what to say. When did the Try Pheap company become an expert in river management?"
“Talking from an environmental perspective, we don’t need to do this work because the Mekong River has been flowing naturally for thousands of years already."
“It will lead to more collapses of the river bank and pollute the water, seriously affecting fish and other natural resources. I would not support it,” Savath said.
The Post was unable to reach Try Pheap Engineering & Construction for comment.
A Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology official insisted that if the government allowed the development to go ahead, it would be the main priority to prevent the collapse of river banks.