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Study calls for halt to dams

Local residents swim in the reservoir where the controversial Lower Sesan II Dam is planned in Stung Treng province this year
Local residents swim in the reservoir where the controversial Lower Sesan II Dam is planned in Stung Treng province this year. Vireak Mai

Study calls for halt to dams

A new study and accompanying short film released yesterday call for all lower Mekong dam developers to halt plans until further impact studies can be made.

Hydropower dams will have a greater impact on river flows than even climate change, according to research by the University of Canterbury and the Mekong River Commission.

The report, released yesterday, is the distillation of three years of research on the Sekong, Srepok and Sesan (3S) Rivers, and provided background for the new documentary short, Hydropower Impacts and Alternatives.

Both the report and the film, produced in part by the NGO Conservation International, emphasize the need to balance conservation with Cambodia’s growing energy sector and the 42 dams proposed for the 3S river basin.

“The fishery resources are very important and we must maintain the fish of our ancestors and the staple food of our people through sustainable practices, but at the same time, electricity is very important as well,” said Sam Nov, deputy director general of the Fisheries Administration. “In order to meet the needs of Cambodians today and the future development of our society we want all families to have access to electricity.”

Currently, some 80 per cent of the Cambodian population lacks access to electricity, according to the film. Cambodia annually pays for significant amounts of electricity from Laos and Vietnam to meet its growing needs.

But the need for further electricity production should not drive developers to dam up the river before the necessary research can be conducted, says Conservation International.

“A moratorium should be placed on these dams until more assessments can be conducted,” Tracey Farrell, senior technical director at CI, told filmmakers.

The Lower Sesan 2, Lower Srepok and the Xekong dams are all of particular concern to the filmmakers and researchers.

“The marginal benefit of these dams is relatively small compared to their effect,” said Thomas Cochrane, an engineering professor at University of Canterbury, and one of the report’s authors.

Cochrane isn’t alone in his assessment.

“Given the current situation, no dams should be built on the Mekong mainstream or its large tributaries,” said Nao Thuok, Fisheries Administration director. “Further research must ensure dams have a minimal impact on the food security and the eco-system.”

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