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Cambodian Thanks, Caution, as China Opens Mekong Dam

FILE - A man casts a fishing net on the Mekong riverbank in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
FILE - A man casts a fishing net on the Mekong riverbank in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Farmers and development organizations say they welcome the release of water from a hydropower dam on the Mekong River in China, but warn against negative effects if too much is discharged.

In January and February, China released 2.3 billion cubic meters of water from Jinghong power station in Yunnan province as part of efforts to ease drought and help irrigation in Lower Mekong countries.

The Mekong River Commission, a consortium of governments from countries along the river, praised the discharge following a two-day meeting in Vietnam, calling it "goodwill" from China.

"I would encourage that the member countries use this extra volume of water in an appropriate and effective manner," Le Duc Trung, chairman of the Mekong River Commission’s Joint Committee, said.

The increased flow will not only help farmers, but Cambodian fishermen as well. Phork Nimul, a fisherman in O’Svay commune, Stung Treng province, said the water would help his crops and enable fishing boats to better navigate the river, bringing in more fish to feed families.

Some Cambodians, however, remain cautious, fearing too much of a good thing.

Phork Sareith, chief of a fishing community in Stung Treng city’s Samaki commune, said he worries that too much water could be discharged and hurt crops.

"If too much water is to be released, the crops will be flooded, so it could affect the people living along the river," he said.

Tek Vannara, director of the Phnom Penh-based NGO Forum on Cambodia, echoed that sentiment, saying that although the water could alleviate the effects of drought, especially in agricultural communities, too much water could also damage sensitive ecosystems. Stored water is already "against the natural flow" of the river, he said.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Khmer Service.