Environmentalists Say Dam Project Could Be Disastrous

While fears have been raised over the imminent construction of the Don Sahong dam in Laos, environmentalists on Monday said Cambodia should not forget that it has a project of its own that would be equally as disastrous to the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands people in the country. Laos announced last week that construction will begin next month on the 240-MW Don Sahong dam, leading the WWF, an international conservation group, to call for an urgent meeting between Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam to discuss the dam’s impact. But the Lower Sesan 2 dam in Stung Treng province, where preparatory work has begun, will also have a devastating impact on Cambodians whose livelihoods depend on the Mekong and should not be forgotten, environmental groups said. “The Don Sahong dam and the Lower Sesan 2 dam are the two greatest threats facing Cambodia’s fisheries today. Should either of these projects be built, the implications on people’s livelihoods, health, and nutrition are likely to be devastating,” said Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for International Rivers. … A total of 11 dams are planned on the Lower Mekong—seven in Laos, two on the Thai-Lao border and two in Cambodia. If all are built, the dams would produce about 13,500 MW of power, bringing economical benefits and development to the region, according to a 2010 report by the Inter­national Center for Environmental Man­agement for the Mekong River Commission. Cambodia, the report found, would be most affected by the dams. “Cambodia is likely to bear the brunt of the decline in fisheries due to the importance of this sector and the dependence of large sections of the population on fisheries for their livelihoods and as a key source of nutrition. Domestic hydropower projects will bring benefits but [it] is not clear wheth­er the financial and economic gain these may imply will offset the less obvious costs borne by fisheries dependent populations,” the report states, adding that the dams would lead to a direct loss of 340,000 tons of fish per year regionally, equaling about $467 million.

Denise Hruby and Kuch Naren