REPRESENTATIVES of 74 indigenous minority villages in Ratanakkiri province have prepared a letter calling on Prime Minister Hun Sen to halt construction of a dam that they say will devastate the flow and biodiversity of the Sesan River, endangering the livelihoods of tens of thousands, a plea timed to coincide with the premier’s scheduled visit to the province this week.
The letter is to be delivered to provincial officials today, two days after the launch of a weeklong trade fair in the province intended to facilitate investment opportunities in the so-called “development triangle” of neighbouring border areas in Cambodia, Thailand and Laos.
Meach Mien, project coordinator of the 3S Rivers Protection Network, said Sunday that Hun Sen was expected to arrive in Ratanakkiri this week to formally open National Road 78, though officials could not confirm the details of the visit.
He said village representatives believed the prime minister was the only person who could act on their concerns that the planned Lower Sesan II dam would exacerbate flooding and river degradation problems caused by dams that had already been built – notably the Yali Falls dam in Vietnam.
“The purpose of the statement to Hun Sen is, for one, to help to find a solution for existing problems, and also, relating to the Lower Sesan II dam, they want the prime minister to find a new alternative,” he said.
The letter also calls on local authorities to explore small-scale, decentralised power sources such as solar panels and micro-hydropower dams.
An environmental impact assessment (EIA), commissioned by the Ministry of Environment and
completed by Key Consultants Cambodia in July 2008 for the Power Engineering Consulting Joint Stock Company 1, found that more than 5,000 people would be displaced by the dam, and that about 30,000 hectares of forest would be submerged as a result of its construction.
The letter to Hun Sen says that a new EIA should be conducted because the producers of the previous one did not consult the tens of thousands of villagers who stand to be affected by the dam.
Meach Mien expressed frustration that, regardless of their findings, EIAs have previously had little influence on major projects such as the Lower Sesan II dam.
“Actually, for me, the EIA is only a report, but after conducting that they keep [the original plan] – nothing changes,” he said in an interview in Ratanakkiri last week.
Pich Dun, secretary general of the National Mekong Committee, said Sunday that government officials and employees of the company building the US$816 million dam – Electricity Vietnam – were aware of the villagers’ concerns.
In response to them, he said, the capacity of the dam had been revised downwards from 450 megawatts.
“I think that the government already discussed this, and I think many of the stakeholders concerned agreed that the dam could generate about 400 megawatts. That was the last discussion,” he said.
Construction of the Lower Sesan II dam is set to be completed in 2014. The dam is being funded through a build-operate-transfer (BOT) scheme, and though officials have been unable to confirm when control of the dam will be transferred to the Cambodian government, the normal period for such schemes is 30 to 40 years.
Meach Mien said the government had failed to secure a single power-purchase agreement for the sale of the electricity generated by the dam, despite the fact that officials have said it would generate revenue from foreign sales.
He added: “The experience from the upstream dams, firstly from the Yali Falls dam and then the five other dams that were built, is that the water quality has changed since the building of the dams.”
Kham Nav, deputy governor of Voeun Sai district, said that since construction of the Yali Falls dam in Vietnam began in 1993, the river had been increasingly prone to flooding.
“The river has been flooding at least three times a year, and the level of the water has become irregular,” she said.
“Fish have declined, and the ecosystem has changed now – before, we could see many birds and fish, but now there are almost none.”