World Wildlife Fund (WWF) was extremely pleased to hear recent comments from His Excellency Keo Rattanak, the director-general of Electricite du Cambodge (EDC), that he does not want to see the proposed Mekong River mainstream hydropower projects of Sambor and Stung Treng as part of the energy mix going forward.
The comments were made during an “Energy Vision” forum in Phnom Penh organised by the American Chamber of Commerce.
The comments were a welcome recognition of the immense value the free-flowing Mekong brings to Cambodia and the millions of people who rely on it for their livelihoods, fish catches and protein base.
The Mekong River is the defining geographic feature of Cambodia. Flowing south from the Lao border, it empties into a massive delta in Vietnam.
It hosts the world’s largest freshwater fishery and is home to some of the planet’s most unique and rare species, such as the critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphin and the Mekong giant catfish.
It is the longest river in Southeast Asia and second only to the Amazon in terms of fish biodiversity, home to over 1,100 freshwater species, with more discovered every year.
At present, the Lower Mekong south of the Lao border remains free-flowing. If the Cambodian section is blocked at any point by a large dam, there will be irreversible disturbance to hydrologic and ecosystem processes currently supporting the Lower Mekong and the Tonle Sap great lake.
Healthy free-flowing rivers deliver a number of critical ecosystem services.
They support freshwater fish stocks that improve food security for hundreds of millions of people, deliver sediment that supports agricultural productivity and keeps deltas above rising seas, mitigate the impact of extreme floods and droughts, and prevent loss of infrastructure and fields to erosion.
Instead of building mega dams like Sambor and Stung Treng, Cambodia should focus on sustainable renewable energy like solar power and wind to help meet its fast-growing energy needs.
Solar farms can be built quickly, closer to demand and at lower than ever costs. Large hydropower dams on the other hand are extremely costly, expensive to maintain and lead to destructive impacts on fisheries, biodiversity and communities.
A free-flowing Mekong River will enable millions of people depending on it to continue to sustain their livelihoods without any harm, and the biodiversity within the river can thrive for the benefit of many generations to come.
We applaud HE Keo Rattanak’s visionary comments and look forward to a solar-powered future for Cambodia.
WWF Cambodia country director
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