Dam Proposal Raises Displacement Concerns

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Article from The Cambodia Daily   

    Concerns have been raised over a hydropower dam planned for Stung Treng province by environmental NGOs and some of the estimated 5,000 people who will be displaced if the project gets a green light.

   An Environmental Impact Assessment study currently being carried out for the 420-megawatt Lower Sesan II dam is due for completion in July and if cleared by the Ministry of the Environment, Vietnam’s state-owned Electricity of Vietnam plans to begin construction in late 2009.

    According to one expert who is helping prepare the EIA, a total of 394 square-km of land, including Srekor and Kbal Romea communes in Stung Treng’s Sesan district, will be submerged after the dam’s construction. The dam is to be built a little over a kilometer from the confluence of the Sesan and Srepok rivers.

    A report on a meeting in February held between EIA consultants and representatives of the estimated 1,300 local families that would be displaced by the dam, was compiled by a local NGO, the Conservation and Environment Preservation Association.

    The CEPA report quoted Srekor commune association representative Chan Thol as saying that Srekor villagers had refused to thumbprint a document circulated in December to signal their approval for the dam’s construction due to their concern over how they would be compensated.

    Plans to build the Lower Sesan II dam in Cambodia is adding to fears and concerns among residents in both communes who are already suffering from the negative impacts of upstream dams in Vietnam, said Meach Mean, acting coordinator of 3SPN, a local NGO.

   “If the Lower Sesan 2 dam is built, the impacts will directly and indirectly affect thousands of people living along both rivers,” Meach Mean said.

    “Those who are resettled will be greatly affected, as they will have to build new homes, clear new land and find new livelihoods,” he added.

    Stung Treng Governor Loy Sophat said Wednesday the province had major hydropower potential that was not being utilized. The dam would bring power to Stung Treng, Ratanakkiri, Kratie, Mondolkiri and Preah Vihear province, he said, adding that the dam’s benefits outweigh any negative impacts.

    “[Relocated] Villagers will get proper compensation,” Loy Sophat added.

   Taing Sophanara, executive manager of Key Consultants who have been hired to carry out the EIA, confirmed that a minimum of 1,000 families would be displaced by the dam. He added, however, that the final level of water in the proposed dam has not yet been finalized.

    “The primary problem we can see so far with this dam is how will these people be resettled,” Taing Sophanara said.

   CEPA Director Tep Bunnarith on Wednesday criticized the consultation process so far, saying that NGOs, who had experience and knowledge of negative effects of such dams in other areas, were being excluded from the EIA process.

    “People [affected] are not being properly informed and all officials are only talking about the positive aspects [of the dam],” he said.

    Currently, five hydropower dams are at various stages of planning on the Sesan River, with an expected total power generating capacity of 818 megawatts.