News / Asia

Work Begins on Controversial Cambodian Dam

Residents of Srekor village plane lengths of wood at their open-air workshop on the banks of the Se San River, Cambodia. (R. Carmichael/VOA)Residents of Srekor village plane lengths of wood at their open-air workshop on the banks of the Se San River, Cambodia. (R. Carmichael/VOA)
x
Residents of Srekor village plane lengths of wood at their open-air workshop on the banks of the Se San River, Cambodia. (R. Carmichael/VOA)
Residents of Srekor village plane lengths of wood at their open-air workshop on the banks of the Se San River, Cambodia. (R. Carmichael/VOA)
Robert Carmichael
As work begins on Cambodia’s biggest dam, those advocating against its construction have warned that the region’s rush for hydropower will have a disastrous effect on millions of people who rely on the Mekong River to survive.

Last month, workers began preparing an area in northeastern Cambodia for a huge hydropower project, the 400-megawatt Lower Se San 2 Dam.

The $800 million dam on the Se San River, a major tributary of the Mekong, will take the Cambodian, Chinese and Vietnamese companies behind it five years to build.

Opponents say the dam’s real cost will be paid by the millions of people who rely on fish for the bulk of their protein intake.

Cambodians eat more freshwater fish than any other nationality, says Eric Baran, the senior research scientist with WorldFish, an independent group that studies food security. “So people have become very reliant on this source of animal protein," he explained. "And, fish is also by far the first source of animal protein.”

Thailand and Vietnam have a flourishing livestock sector - with advanced production of chickens and pigs. But, in Cambodia, fish accounts for 80 percent of the population’s animal protein intake.

Scientists estimated the Lower Se San 2 Dam could reduce the total fish yield of the Mekong Basin by 9.3 percent.

“So it’s 9.3 percent of 2.1 million tons - which is a gigantic amount," said Baran. "In other words, this expected loss represents around 200,000 tons per year, which is much more than the whole marine sector of Australia. And, nine times more than the annual inland fish catch in Germany or the U.S.”

That estimated drop is presented in a study that Baran co-authored, published last year in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  

Researchers found that of the dozens of tributary dams planned for Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, the Lower Se San 2 Dam was by far the most destructive for fisheries.

That is because the Se San River is one-third of a network of rivers in northeastern Cambodia that constitute three out of four so-called “highways” that migratory fish use to access their breeding sites.

The Lower Se San 2 Dam will be built a few miles downstream of the confluence of two of those three rivers: the Se San River and the Sre Pok River. Scientists said the dam’s eight-kilometer wall will block migratory fish - which make up 40 percent of all fish in the system - from accessing their breeding grounds.

The study also found that the Lower Se San 2 Dam would reduce by six to eight percent the flow of nutrient-rich sediment, which is vital to fertilizing the small rice fields of hundreds of thousands of subsistence-level people.

And, it warns that a series of mainstream dams planned for Laos and Cambodia would have even worse effects.

“If the 11 mainstream dams are built, it’s expected that up to 75 percent of the sediments will be blocked by dams,” Baran said.

Countries that build dams on the mainstream of the Mekong River must first carry out detailed impact studies to measure how they could affect their neighbors.

But dams built on tributaries - such as the Lower Se San 2 Dam - require no such study.

Ame Trandem is the Southeast Asia Program Director for International Rivers, an independent environmental group.  She said the environmental impact assessment for the Lower Se San 2 Dam is “wholly inadequate.”

“Because it’s a tributary project it has never undergone that same level of consultation. And, so the information that’s been produced by experts hasn’t reached the government in the same kind of channels. I do think, if more information was reaching the government, it would reconsider,” Trandem stated.

VOA tried to speak with Cambodian authorities about the dam’s impact, but was told that the man responsible for hydropower dams - the Minister of Industry, Mines & Energy Suy Sem - was too busy to schedule an interview until after Cambodia’s general election in July. Other ministry staff would not speak and a list of questions sent to the minister was not answered.

Meanwhile, work on the Lower Se San 2 Dam has started and thousands of people who live in the areas that will be submerged by the dam’s vast 300-square-kilometer reservoir have been told they will have to move.

Pa Tou, a 37-year-old rice farmer and resident of Srekor village, says the proposed resettlement site will leave all of the villagers far worse off, Cambodia. (R. Carmichael/VOA)Pa Tou, a 37-year-old rice farmer and resident of Srekor village, says the proposed resettlement site will leave all of the villagers far worse off, Cambodia. (R. Carmichael/VOA)
x
Pa Tou, a 37-year-old rice farmer and resident of Srekor village, says the proposed resettlement site will leave all of the villagers far worse off, Cambodia. (R. Carmichael/VOA)
Pa Tou, a 37-year-old rice farmer and resident of Srekor village, says the proposed resettlement site will leave all of the villagers far worse off, Cambodia. (R. Carmichael/VOA)
One of them is 37-year-old Pa Tou. He said none of the 400 ethnic minority families in Srekor village on the banks of the Se San River wants to leave.
 
Pa Tou said the dam will deprive them of everything - their rice fields, orchards and homes. Currently, they can grow enough rice in a year to feed themselves for the following year and they are able to raise some livestock for food and some for sale.

Pa Tou, who has three daughters, said that will not be possible at the relocation site, which is miles from the river.  He said the land there is poor for farming - most of it is rocky or covered with trees - and there are no health clinics and no schools. He fears they will all be left much worse off.

You May Like

Mood Tense Ahead of Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, No voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve and do not want to take a risk by endorsing independence More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Spacei
X
September 17, 2014 4:20 AM
The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid