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Villagers Wary of Hydropower Projects

Irregular, powerful flooding, the loss of resources and forced relocation were all consequences of hydroelectric dam projects, villagers and environment experts said this week.

In a search for power for a populace that lives mostly off the grid, Cambodia is constructing at least five dams in three provinces, but villagers living along the Se San river, in the northeast of the country, said a dam built in Vietnam in 1991 should serve as a caution.

“The village became a victim because of a dam in Vietnam,” said Klan Ty, a Jarai minority from Andong Meas district, Ratanakkiri province, who spoke at a two-day forum on hydropower that ended Wednesday. “The Se San river became dirtier, killing the fish and the natural resources in the river. There is a flood two or three times a year. The old people, the children, the animals died because of the power of the floodwater.”

In 2007, all the residents of one village in Andong Meas’ Talao commune were forced to move when their houses fell from a collapsed bank into the river, Klan Ty said.

Another villager, Phay Ton Youk, from Talat commune, in Steng Treng province’s Se San district, said the Se San dam in Vietnam had caused a drastic reduction of the fish in the river, forcing people to move to an area where they could farm instead. But even that has been difficult, he said, because the rice fields are hurt by irregular flooding.

Koh Kong resident Sim Buntheoun said Wednesday villagers worried they would be evicted if dams across the Tatai and Chay Areng rivers are built. They’re asking for compensation from the construction company, which, like many developers of hydropower projects here, is from China.

Chhith Samath, director of the NGO Forum, which sponsored the dam forum, said the dam in Vietnam and those under construction are putting heavy pressure on the environment, economics and the living conditions of people.

Hem Kolaboth, secretary of state for the Ministry of Environment, acknowledged the ill effects hydropower dams can have, claiming that dams can have a worse effect on the environment than they benefit the people, if the developers doesn’t strictly consider the needs of the people.