Over 350 species, in addition to local residents, inhabit the proposed Kirirom III dam's flood zone, raising fears about the lasting social and environmental effects of the project
Photo by: MICHAEL HAYES
Another dam – the Kamchay hydroelectric dam – under construction in Kampot province two weeks ago.
WITH construction slated to begin this month on the 18-megawatt Kirirom III hydropower dam in Koh Kong province, environmentalists and NGOs continue to voice concerns about the potential effects of the project on residents and wildlife near the project site.
The China Electric Power Technology Import and Export Corp (CETIC) will be in charge of building the US$40 million project, which is expected to take two-and-a-half years, according to an initial environmental and social impact assessment produced by the company last year.
The impact assessment states that the project will generate jobs for approximately 500 Cambodian and Chinese workers. But environmentalists and rights activists are concerned by the report's claims that 352 species of wildlife, in addition to 10 local families, will need to be resettled during its construction.
Seng Bunra, country director for Conservation International, said his organisation is worried whether the animals in question will be able to survive the construction of the dam.
"They will have to move to live in another place," he said. "Some animals cannot move because they need special shelters."
Tonn Kunthel, Mekong community rights project officer at the NGO Forum on Cambodia, said construction of the dam would harm the biodiversity of the Stung Pongrul River.
He also pointed to the potential effect on nearby residents, noting that roads built to the construction site could displace more than the 10 families mentioned in the impact assessment and that the project would limit villagers' access to the river.
Villager Mao Phorn, who lives near the projected dam site, said his livelihood depends on his ability to catch fish from the river.
"I believe that people are more concerned than happy about the scheme, with villagers fearing impacts on fish stocks and their land," he said.
Tonn Kunthel pointed to a November 2008 report published by the Rivers Coalition of Cambodia and the American Friends Service Committee that found the dam would cause deterioration in water quality, soil erosion and flooding.
The Before the Dam report predicted that the project would lead to "deterioration of the local environment systems that currently supply a range of natural resources to the local community" as well as a general "decline in the local quality of life".
The director of CETIC declined to answer questions about the dam.
Thuk Kroeun Vutha, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Environment, said officials are aware of the environmental and other threats the project poses.
"We are working on this problem because we see there are some points that will strongly impact the environment," he told the Post last week.
"If we see that it will impact the area too much, I don't know if we will stop it or not because we need to discuss with other ministries about how to resolve the issue."