Don Sahong Dam in Laos to Worsen Nutrition in Cambodia

Nutrition experts and environmentalists have raised concerns over the impact the future Don Sahong dam in Laos will have on the nutritional requirements of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians living downstream who depend on fish from the Mekong River as a source of protein and fat.

Construction of the dam, which will be just 2 km from the Cambo­dian border, will cause a decrease in the fish population in downstream countries, particularly in Cambodia, as the dam will be built on the only channel that allows year-long fish migration, said Chhit Sam Ath, executive director of NGO Forum.

“If the Don Sahong is built, it will have a huge, negative impact on the fish of the Lower Mekong Basin. We expect a huge difference for the fish migration and the number of fish because the flow of the river will be blocked,” Mr. Sam Ath said, adding that endangered fish species, such as the Giant Mekong Catfish, will likely become extinct.

In a 2009 study on the impact of the Don Sahong dam, Ian Baird, a professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said that an impact on migratory fish was certain and would be irreversible.

“What we do know is that [certain species are] extremely important to the livelihoods and food security of a large portion of the human population of Central Cambodia and any significant impacts to the biological potential of the fishery would be socially and economically devastating to rural Cambodia,” Mr. Baird said in the study.

Fish are one of the rural populations’ main providers of protein and fats, both vital for a normal function of the body and brain. Fish and seafood make up al­most 40 percent of a Cambodian’s average protein intake, and 28 percent of fat intake, according to a 2011 survey by the Fisheries Administration.

Sonny Krishnan, communication officer for the World Health Organization, said that fish as a source of protein and fat was very hard to replace, particularly for low-income households in Cambodia.

Besides causing malnourishment, a low fat intake could harm bodily functions, he said.

“Fat is vital for your bodily functions. It comes from lipids and a low lipid intake could have consequences in terms of muscular function and neurological function,” Mr. Krishnan said.

“If you remove the main source of protein, that would affect the development of children, their growth and their brain,” Mr. Krishnan said, adding that it could also cause an increase in low-birth weight babies and impact the function of nerves in adults.

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