Mekong Communities Tell of Hardship From Hydropower Dams

About 200 people from Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia affected by hydropower dam projects on the Mekong River and its tributaries gathered in Phnom Penh on Monday to share their experiences of how their lives have been adversely affected since the dams were constructed.

Speaking at an event organized by NGO Forum, representatives from the three countries spoke out about their experiences with hydropower development throughout the Mekong Region.

The information was of particular interest to those Cambodians in attendance, as villagers living in Stung Treng province are currently preparing to be evicted to make way for the reservoir of a massive 400 MW dam to be built by Cambodian conglomerate Royal Group in partnership with China’s Hydrolancang International Energy company.

Somsak Tiyata, a coordinator of the Mekong-Lanna network, an environmental group based in Thailand’s northern Chiang Rai province, said that the Chinese dams upstream on the Mekong have severely reduced the amount of vegetation and fish that Thais rely on for food.

“We used to have sand dunes and deep pools. We have many sub-ecosystems where fish spawn in. And there is kai, a freshwater weed that grows on rocks,” Mr. Tiyata said. “Now, kai has been affected by the change in the flow of the river from dams upstream and it is slowly disappearing.”

He added that letters and petitions sent by the group over the years to the Chinese Embassy in Thailand had gone unanswered.

Traing Tham, from the Brou ethnic minority living in Ratanakkiri province, said the Yali Falls dam, the second largest dam in Vietnam and located upstream on the Sesan River, has contributed to severe and unexpected floods in his area.

“A major flood in 2009 was caused when Vietnam released the water from the reservoir and caused our homes to become submerged,” Mr. Tham said. “The water is now brown and we get rashes when we bathe in the river.”

Songqiao Yao, a China program consultant for environmental group International Rivers, said information coming from the Chinese state about any planned Chinese dams on the Lancang River—which becomes the Mekong farther downstream—is scarce.

“China requires environmental impact assessments and resettlement to be completed before the construction of dams happen. But in reality, this is rarely carried out,” Ms. Songqiao said.

On the sidelines of Monday’ forum, Foy Soth, one of the villagers living along the Sesan River in Ratanakkiri province’s Veun Sai district, said she was worried a similar situation would be played out in Cambodia during the construction of the Lower Sesan 2 dam.

Studies have shown that the Lower Sesan 2 dam will cause a severe loss in fisheries. Yet no compensation schemes and resettlement options have ever been offered to the villagers in the area.

“I have some hope now that people from the region are sharing my concerns and are talking about it,” Ms. Soth said. “However, I am afraid that the government will still not have a solution for us.”

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