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Villagers Call for Postponement of Lao Dam

FILE - A Cambodian fisherman takes off his fishing net at Mekong river bank of Koh Norea village in Phnom Penh.
FILE - A Cambodian fisherman takes off his fishing net at Mekong river bank of Koh Norea village in Phnom Penh.
Villagers from fishing communities along the Mekong River on Thursday urged the Cambodian government to negotiate with Laos over postponing a dam project slated to begin later this year.

Conservationists say the Don Sahong dam could damage downstream fisheries and harm the well-being of the rare Mekong dolphin, a source of ecotourism revenue for some Cambodian villages along the river.

Pory Vanna, a representative from Koh Pdao, a dolphin ecotourism site, told reporters in Phnom Penh Thursday that he is worried the dam will ruin tourism if it dries up the river and causes the dolphins to disappear.

"We wouldn’t be able to make any income," said Vanna. "Fishing would also be finished. I appeal to the government of Laos to discuss the impact [of the dam] with communities in the lower part of the dam project - a trans-border discussion. I appeal to the Cambodian government to include this issue on the agenda of an upcoming meeting with Laos."

Gerry Ryan, a technical consultant with the World Wildlife Fund, says even the construction of the dam could hurt the dolphins, who depend on echolocation and sound, rather than sight.

He said, "Dolphins have very sensitive hearing system, and the loud noises and strong percussive forces produced by explosions, produced by explosions can damage their hearing system and potentially either killing them immediately or leading to harm that means they won't be able to navigate properly under the water."

The start on the proposed dam project is planned for later this year, despite challenges from environmentalists and the Cambodian and Vietnamese governments.

The dam will be located at Khon Falls, a crucial habitat for fish and the Mekong River dolphin during the dry season, just one kilometer upstream from the Cambodian border. The project will be built by a Malaysian company at a projected cost of $3.8 billion.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.