Facing Chinese Dam, Monks Fight for Temple

Monks residing in Koh Kong’s remote Areng Valley have begun raising funds online to renovate their local temple, despite plans in store for a large Chinese-backed hydropower dam that would leave the site completely inundated.

The online petition, which went live on Saturday and is titled Build a Buddhist Temple, Stop a Dam, aims to reach its goal of raising $5,000 to renovate and develop the temple in Thma Baing district’s Pralay commune.

Donations would go toward building a new kitchen, three bamboo huts for guests, two toilets and bridges to facilitate travel in and out of the remote valley.

The idea, according to Alejan­dro Gonzalez-Davidson—the activist who set up the online funding venture and who has been working with the local community in the area for the past 10 years—is to make the temple into an ecotourism site.

The 108-MW hydropower dam, to be built by China’s Guodian Corporation, stands to flood almost 2,000 hectares of land, some of which would include sacred forestland in the Carda­mom Protected Forest. More than 1,500 people would have to be relocated, and environmentalists have said that rare animal and plant species in the forests, including the endangered Siamese Crocodile, will be negatively impacted.

Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson said the 10 monks living in the temple in the Areng Valley wanted to develop their place of worship into an ecotourism site to show the government that the valley could bring in money and should not be flooded.

“We are not really opposing the dam; we are just begging to keep living here and hope to develop the area for ecotourism,” he said.

Venerable Pramh Dhammajat, a monk based in Kompong Speu province’s Oral district, said he knows little about the construction plans for the dam, but had traveled to the valley earlier this month to help the local monks with a blessing ceremony for the trees.

“I think the Areng Valley is a great place for ecotourism development like Ta Tai resort to attract tourists and to give jobs to local people,” he said.

Pech Siyun, provincial director of the department of industry, mines and energy, said there is no set date for construction of the dam yet.

“The construction has not yet began because the process of discussion over capital investment and some technical issues has not yet been completed,” he said, declining to comment further.

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