Sharing the Srepok River: Cambodian Communities Downstream of Vietnam Dams Finally Get a Hearing
In January 2007, following prolonged calls by Cambodian civil society groups, an official consultation was held on the likely environmental and social impacts to the Srepok River in Cambodia from a cascade of dams under development in Vietnam. Despite the lack of concrete changes resulting from the meeting, many villagers felt the consultation was a step in the right direction.The meeting was, however, unable to dispel many Srepok villagers’ fears that the dams will cause more harm than good.
“Chances are you won't pick up a hydro-related publication these days that doesn't feature news of hydroelectric developments in
Since 1996, when a coffer dam burst during construction causing a major flood downstream, 55,000 people living downstream have suffered from daily erratic water fluctuations, widespread flooding, illness due to poor water quality, loss of riverbank gardens, and diminished fish stocks. Dam-induced flooding has resulted in at least 39 deaths and average income has plummeted from around $109 to $46 per month. Four other major hydropower projects currently in operation or under construction on the river have compounded the impact of
Villagers blame unusual flooding of the
Affected people call for reparation
In response to the impacts of the Yali Falls Dam, a local peoples’ movement developed along the
The Sesan-Srepok-Sekong, or ‘3S’, working group has determinedly campaigned for reparations and to prevent further destructive hydropower development in the region. While to date the Sesan villagers are yet to receive compensation, the 3S issue is now firmly on the agenda of the Cambodian and Vietnamese governments, as well as the donors who are supporting hydropower development in
For over a year the 3S Working Group had been calling for official consultation on draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports for the Sesan and
On January 12, a consultation to discuss the Srepok report finally took place in
The meeting marks a seminal point in
“The Srepok provides great potential for hydropower development, both in
Community representatives, NGOs and government officials all raised concern that the report, which was based on only two months fieldwork, was inadequate. They said it lacked baseline data, cost-benefit evaluation, detailed mitigation measures, and a review of feasible least-impact alternatives. Ms. Phanny, of
Mr. Tore Hagen, team leader of the Norwegian company SWECO Grøner that prepared the report for EVN, shared these concerns. “Within the time limit of our study, it was not possible to do a baseline study that would fit all of the requirements [of a full EIA],” he said. He recommended that if there are resources, further studies for each hydropower project should be carried out over at least a year.
Despite the reports not yet being finalized or released to the public, four out of six planned medium- to large-scale dams are already under construction. Mr. Tep Bunnarith, of the Cambodian NGO Cultural and Environment Preservation Association, asked, “Can those sites under constructions wait until the detailed full EIA is complete, because we have learned from the experience on the Sesan. We hear that there is commitment to cooperate, but we see that the dams are under construction.”
The report has been found to fall short of both Vietnamese and international standards. The EIA does not comply with
EVN’s Vice President, Dr. Lam Du Son, assured Cambodian participants that comments received at the consultation would be incorporated into the final report, and that the final dam in the cascade, Srepok 4, would be operated to minimize downstream impacts. “We realize that we need to improve this report,” he said, but he also declared that hydropower development would continue.
Villagers questioned what benefit Cambodians would receive in return for the negative impacts the upstream dams will cause. “Dams may be good for your country,” said Sin Thong Lao, “but you forget the hardship of the people living downstream. And we are the ones who face the losses.”
With the Sesan villagers’ experience in mind, Srepok villager participants urged EVN to guarantee their safety and compensate them for any destruction of homes, crops and livelihoods. In a written statement, they called on EVN to halt dam construction until agreement for compensation, life insurance, flood warning procedures, and benefit-sharing between the two countries had been made. Dr. Lam Du Son promised to “find an agreement, to find solutions, and to address the damages.”
Yet, negotiation between Cambodia and Vietnam through a Joint Committee for the Sesan River has stalled and is yet to result in compensation or remedy for affected villagers. Kim Sangha of the 3S Rivers Protection Network, a group advocating for the rights of dam-affected communities, said, “We appreciate the commitment and promises that were given by EVN during the meeting. But we want these promises to become reality.”
Despite the lack of concrete changes resulting from the meeting, many villagers felt the consultation was a step in the right direction. “We wanted
The consultation was, however, unable to dispel many Srepok villagers’ fears that the dams will cause more harm than good. They are skeptical about the commitments made by Vietnamese and Cambodian government officials, given EVN’s history along the neighboring
Read an Assessment of the Swedish funded Environmental Impact Assessment on the Cambodian part of Srepok River due to Hydropower Development in Vietnam against Swedish Guidelines for Dams (prepared by Probe International)
Visit the NGO Forum on Cambodia's website.
Download the full World Rivers Review edition.