Human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the Lower Sesan 2 dam in northeastern Cambodia had sparked controversy, even before its launch in December 2018.
Experts have previously warned that damming the confluence of the Sesan and Srepok Rivers — two main tributaries of the resource-rich Mekong River — could threaten the region’s fish stocks, which are vital to the creatures that live along the rivers.
Large losses upstream and downstream
Tens of thousands of villagers living upstream and downstream have suffered heavy losses on their income, HRW said — citing interviews conducted over two years with several people from 60 communities.
“The Lower Sesan 2 dam is eliminating the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities who mostly live from fishing, gathering forest products, and agriculture,” said John Sifton, HRW’s Asia director of advocacy who also wrote the HRW report. return to compensation, resettlement, and livelihood restoration methods,” he said.
Indigenous and ethnic minorities affected by the dam project include members of the Bunong, Brao, Kuoy, Lao, Jarai, Kreung, Kavet, Tampuan and Kachok communities.
“There is absolutely no doubt that (the dam) is contributing significantly to the bigger problem the Mekong is facing today,” said energy and water expert Brian Eyler.
Lower energy production
The government has been pushing for a resettlement project of about 5,000 people — with the hope of producing about one-sixth of Cambodia’s annual electricity needs as promised by Chinese group Huaneng.
But production levels were “probably much lower, only a third of what was stated”, the HRW report said.
On the other hand, government spokesman Pha Siphan said the project had “the most positive impact” and that the resettled villagers were given new homes, farmland and electricity.
“The allegations are absurd… and the new location is better than the old one,” said Phay Siphan, adding that the government would continue to monitor the impact.
The resettled villagers said their agricultural output was also declining due to less fertile soil, more rocky soil in the resettlement site, and loss of income from fruit and nut trees in their old village. The government does not compensate for loss of income from mushroom crops, medicinal plants, and other products collected from communal forests. Compensation is not sufficient to address the loss of people’s culture and livelihoods. Residents complained that well water in most of the resettlement sites was contaminated and undrinkable.
In its report, HRW wrote that several hundred villagers did not receive compensation or resettlement in 2017 but instead moved to nearby vacant land along a new reservoir created by the dam. The local government intimidated the villagers.
The dam, which cost US$780 million to construct, is part of the New Silk Road Initiative, a US$1 trillion Chinese super-giant project with a vision for maritime, rail and road projects across Asia and Europe.
The New Silk Road Initiative scheme – seen as symbolic of Beijing’s efforts to expand economic influence around the world, – has been widely criticized for burdening small nations with unmanageable debt.
ap / hp (AFP / HRW)