Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Study faults contracts for dams' negative impacts

Study faults contracts for dams' negative impacts

Kampot province’s Kamchay dam, seen releasing water in 2011.
Kampot province’s Kamchay dam, seen releasing water in 2011. Pha Lina

Study faults contracts for dams' negative impacts

Subpar project contracts may be to blame for the destruction of livelihoods and changes to ecosystems caused by foreign-run hydropower dams, a new report in the peer-reviewed journal Water has determined.

In a study of the Kamchay dam in Kampot province, operated by the Chinese firm Sinohydro, researchers from the London-based School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) found that industries relied upon by local populations, such as bamboo collection and tourism, had been significantly harmed by the dam.

“Villagers reported they are only able to collect a low quantity of bamboo since the dam was built. This is because the old bamboo area has been flooded and the new bamboo area is far away and difficult to access,” the paper reads. “The only livelihood alternative for the bamboo collectors is to work as construction workers; however the income they can get is not enough to support their family needs.”

Guiseppina Siciliano, the study’s main author, maintains that damage to local ecosystems occurs when it’s unclear who should take responsibility for mitigating a dam’s impact – a flaw inherent in the build-operate-transfer (BOT) contracts favoured in Cambodia, which effectively assign companies oversight of themselves. Altering contracts could prevent international companies from flouting local environmental protection laws, she said.

“BOT contracts are more common where there isn’t local expertise capable of running a dam, and these are the most common in Cambodia,” Siciliano said. “This makes it very difficult to define who is responsible, and the way the company communicates with the government is not very clear.”

Instead, countries like Ghana hire foreign firms to run hydropower projects using engineering procurement and construction (EPC) contracts, Siciliano said. This allows the government to have more oversight.

“Things were done better in Ghana, the government was involved and international standards were met,” she said.

In the case of the Kamchay dam, for example, Sinohydro violated Cambodia’s environmental impact assessment law by failing to complete an assessment of the dam until seven months after the project was completed, Siciliano noted.

Meanwhile, advocates say that Cambodia’s government and hydropower companies should communicate more closely with local residents.

“Right now, their assessments aren’t open to local communities, and sometimes they don’t even do them,” said Mory Sar of the Cambodian Youth Network, which educates young people on the impact of dams. “The consultation process isn’t open and the voices of the people are ignored.”

Un Chakrey, of the World Wildlife Foundation, agreed.

“We propose building smaller dams that would have a minor impact on the river and only produce a little less electricity,” he said. “But no one listens.”

MOST VIEWED

  • First deportees of the year touch down in Cambodia

    Twenty-five Cambodian-Americans landed in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, marking the first such deportations of the year. “On Wednesday, US law enforcement authorities deported 25 Cambodian nationals that immigration judges determined had no legal basis to remain in the US,” said Arend Zwartjes, spokesperson for the US

  • Qatar Airways to connect Doha and Siem Reap town

    Qatar Airways Company QCSC has announced a new route connecting Qatar’s capital Doha with Siem Reap, a move hailed by local officials as a significant step to boost tourist numbers. A Qatar Airways representative, speaking at the Kuwait Aviation Show, announced on Thursday that

  • Sokha defence denies Tech’s claims

    ON DAY two of Kem Sokha’s treason trial, lawyers for the government said the defence had raised questions in an attempt to allow their client to make a public statement and a conclusion to the case, something his legal team denied. Ky Tech, a

  • Cambodian general visits Myanmar to enhance national defence cooperation

    Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) commander-in-chief Vong Pisen is now in Myanmar leading a delegation that aims to improve ties, particularly in national defence, with the fellow Asean member. The timing of Pisen’s four-day visit to the Southeast Asian neighbour is highly symbolic, with

  • Probe underway after wreckage of drone with Chinese characters found

    Air Force Command spokesman Prak Sokha said on Sunday that investigations are underway regarding the wreckage of a drone that was recovered in Koh Kong province’s Koh Sdech commune in Kiri Sakor district. The wreckage has been taken to the capital for further examination,

  • Sokha’s treason trial begins

    The treason trial of Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha began at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday with the presentation of a two-minute video clip. The footage, which was the basis of the charge against him, was dismissed by