Dams in Vietnam Ruin Cambodian Villages

Enough is enough. That was the message delivered by ten agitated community representatives from the north-eastern Cambodian province of Stung Treng during a meeting on January 12 with some of the officials responsible for Vietnam’s plans to construct additional dams on the Vietnamese side of the border. These included officials from the state-owned Electricity of Vietnam (EVN), who – in a rare move – were willing to face the questions of the upset Cambodians.
     The Cambodian activists claim this was the first time in more than a decade of Scandinavian aid-backed hydro-planning along rivers shared by Vietnam and Cambodia that the Scandinavian consultants and the EVN have agreed to meet with affected residents and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
     ”We have no hope that Vietnam will give any compensation to the Cambodian people affected by their dams,” one of the Cambodian community representatives, Chao Chantha, 46, told News Mekong after the meeting.
     “Since 2004, we have been experiencing unnatural floods two to three times a year. We are aware that the floods are caused by hydroelectric dams built upstream in Vietnam,” Chao Chantha explained, referring to the construction activity that started in 2003 for a series of dams in the Srepok river basin.
     In Chao Chantha’s village in Banmei, 83 families are already negatively affected by dams across the Srepok that flows into Cambodia. For two years, releases of water from the dams have unleashed floods that caused the rice plants to rot. Their livelihoods affected, most residents are being forced to go to other provinces and find work in the garment or construction industries. A few families have decided to stick it out, but their crops are ruined by repeated flooding.
     In the Rattanakkiri and Stung Treng provinces, an estimated total of 11,000 villagers living along the Srepok river basin have been facing negative impacts from hydropower development of the river basin. While the affected villagers are still awaiting compensation, many fear that the new dam projects – which will include four dams – will bring the same environmental impact.

Environmental Research Funded by Sweden and Norway
The original purpose of the January 12 meeting was to take up the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report done by the Swedish consulting firm SWECO Groner with funding from Swedish and Norwegian aid agencies, SIDA and NORAD.
     A draft version of the EIA report, Cambodian NGOs say, predicts major changes for people living along the river on the Cambodian side of the border, ranging from unpredictable water fluctuations, riverbank erosion, water pollution and impact on fish migration. The EIA report is part of Vietnam’s master plan study that looks into potential dam sites in the country.
     But at the January 12 meeting, representatives of the Srepok communities called for a suspension of dam construction, compensation from dam builders, and a stop to the EIA processes and to financing of dam projects that had no support from the local population.
     Tore Hagen, who is the vice president of SWECO Groner, acknowledged that his company could only come up with a “rapid EIA report” on the Cambodian part of the Srepok. His team spent only a few weeks in Rattanakkiri and Stung Treng in November 2005, spending most of their time on the Vietnamese side of the river basin.
     “To complete the EIA report, it takes at least one more year, because the work force needs to research during different seasons in Cambodia,” explained Hagen.
     The EVN and its Scandinavian partners have earlier promised to halt the dam construction if evidence would prove that it would have a dangerous impact on the environment as well as populated areas. However, a representative from the EVN claims that the flooding and irregular living conditions experienced by the villages in the provinces of Rattanakkiri and Stung have not been caused by the dam constructions, but by severe weather conditions.

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