Waiting for the deluge

The Lower Sesan II dam project is a microcosm of the carving up of Cambodia. In one of the world’s most diverse river ecosystems, the ground burns. Whole forests are felled with scant regard for the law, while the project is backed by the country’s politically connected business elite. Here, at the confluence of the Sesan, Srepok and Sekong rivers, the dam will flood an area half the size of Singapore. The early stages of construction of what will be Cambodia’s largest hydropower project began in November, according to construction workers at the site. At the dam site on Friday, several diggers were at work, as the sound of chainsaws and the crackle of bulldozers felling trees filled the air. The 420-megawatt dam is a joint venture between Cambodian tycoon Kith Meng’s Royal Group and Hydrolancang International, a subsidiary of state-owned China Huaneng Group, which formed Hydropower Lower Sesan II Co Ltd in November 2012. … The families, once farmers, now scrape together a living selling Angkor beer – produced by Malaysian tycoon Khoo Teng Keat’s Mega First Corporation, which is building the Don Sahong dam in Laos – to the workers. … Logging concessions for the reservoir have been handed to Royal Group subsidiary Ang & Associates in a joint venture with Cambodian businessman Sok Vanna, brother of petroleum magnate Sok Kong. The logging firms had their contracts suspended on October 16 following allegations that they were illegally logging in community forest. The government ordered an investigation into the allegations, but no investigation was ever launched, the Post reported this month. Campaigners against the dam and villagers last week supplied reporters with dozens of photographs taken since the logging concession was suspended, claiming they were taken in the reservoir area. … Government demining teams were hired about two weeks ago by the companies to prepare the protected forest for clearance in March, and still the locals have not been informed about the details, much less consulted. The relocation site that villagers in Srepok were offered by the companies is located around three kilometres inside the forest which, when the dam is finished in 2019, will be at the bottom of the reservoir. …

Daniel Pye and Phak Seangly