Villagers Voice Outrage Over Plans to Build Sesan 3
Over 80 Cambodian villagers expressed outrage last Friday when it was revealed that yet another dam was being planned for construction on the Sesan River in Viet Nam.
The villagers had been attending a workshop held in Stung Treng Province on June 13-14 on the way the Yali Falls Dam, located on the Sesan River in Viet Nam, had impacted on Stung Treng Province. The dam is located approximately 70 km upstream from the Cambodia/Viet Nam border.
The 80 villagers represented 30 village communities in Stung Treng. The workshop was organized by the Culture for Environment and Preservation Association (CEPA) and supported by Non Timber Forest Products Project (NTFP) and Partners For Development (PFD).
Also attending the workshop were representatives from the NGO Forum, local NGOs and provincial government members.
The focus of the workshop was the presentation of a report detailing the negative impacts Yali Falls Dam had had on the livelihoods and health of villagers living along the Sesan River in Stung Treng.
"We need to stop this dam," said one upset villager. "We have always been poor, but before the dam at least we could eat and live. Now this is getting harder every year."
A more heated discussion ensued when the workshop was informed by the Sesan Working Group that a new dam, Sesan 3, was going to be built 20 kilometers downstream from Yali Falls.
"What more can they do to us?" asked one local village women. "Nearly everything has already been destroyed. If they build another dam, there will be even more destruction. More people will die. I will gather all the people from my community and tell them we must stop the dam."
The villagers were told that it has been reported that construction of Sesan 3 will begin in June.
In their response to this news, the villagers were of one voice. "One dam has caused enough problems," said a village man. "I have lost my rice fields, some of my animals, and there are less fish to catch in the river. Do they want us all to die?"
"We are just beginning to understand the effects of Yali Falls," said another villager. "I don't think my village will be able to cope with the effects of another dam. We must try and stop Sesan 3." H.E Pave Phom Panh, deputy Governor in Stung Treng province said he welcomes and supports the NGOs that help assisting people along the Sesan River, especially concerning the negative impacts from the Yali Falls Dam on the local livelihood. "I welcome the establishing of people's network that will follow up on the changes of the river." He also stated that he wanted a deeper study on those changes.
Kim Sangha, Sesan Project Coordinator and the workshop facilitator also feels strongly about the new dam. "I would like to propose to the Cambodian Government to negotiate with Viet Nam about the new dam," he said. "The villagers really feel the problems caused by Yali Falls and that is why there has been a strong reaction against Sesan 3."
The NGOs expressed similar concerns about the construction of Sesan 3.
"CEPA is strongly against Sesan 3 because the local people have experienced enough suffering from Yali," Tep Bunnarith, Director of CEPA, agreed. "The Cambodian Government cannot ignore this issue. I don't know why the government has been quiet about this."
Ea Sophy, Environmental Network Coordinator for NGO Forum, was also troubled by the news of Sesan 3. "The NGO Forum objects to the construction of Sesan III. The impact of Yali is already enormous, so if another dam is built, the problem will be doubled. My concern is that more people will become affected by the project."
Ros Savdee, representative from PFD, felt that "Sesan 3 should be stopped. I would like to ask all the governments and companies from the countries who are assisting Viet Nam to build the dams on the Sesan to please consider what they are doing. Their support is causing great danger to Cambodia and its people- please think about the people living downstream from the dams."
The conference was concluded by villagers agreeing to set up networks between all the villages affected by Yali Falls and Sesan 3. Eighteen villagers nominated their village to take part in such networks. There was also a consensus amongst villagers that they needed to take a more active approach to trying to prevent more destruction to the Sesan and their livelihoods caused by the dams.
NB: According to the Viet Nam News Agency report, the construction of the Sesan 3 Dam started Saturday morning (June 15) and will cost $US 273 million.