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Environmental Groups Call on Cambodia to Reject New Laos Dam

FILE - In this June 20, 2016 file photo, a fishing boat passes near a construction site of the Don Sahong dam, near Cambodia-Laos borders, in Preah Romkel village, Stung Treng province, northeast of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Mekong River Commission, an organization that groups together Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand for joint management of the river, said in a statement it has received notice from Laos that it will undertake a process of consultation about the Pak Beng dam. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith, File)

Pak Beng, a $1.88-billion dam about 1,540 kilometers (960 miles) from the Cambodia-Laos border, would be the third dam Laos is building on the lower Mekong mainstream.

Cambodian environmental groups on Friday asked the government to reject Laos’ 912-megawatt Pak Beng hydropower project, alarmed by the potential impacts on fisheries and sediment flow in the Mekong.

Pak Beng, a $1.88-billion dam about 1,540 kilometers (960 miles) from the Cambodia-Laos border, would be the third dam Laos is building on the lower Mekong mainstream.

Laos’ controversial dams, including the Xayaburi and Don Sahong near the border with Cambodia, have become a major concern for people living along the rivers.

In a press conference, Tek Vannara, NGO Forum executive director, said that environmental groups would reject the dam, raising the expected impacts on Cambodia.

He added that the Rivers Coalition in Cambodia (RCC), which consists of 52 organizations, on Thursday sent a proposal to the Cambodian National Mekong Committee to raise the concerns and ask the government to support the cancellation of the project.

The impacts of the two dams have not been evaluated properly, he added.

“We will send our previous study of the impacts and our stance to the government, relevant ministers. We will also work with the Cambodian National Assembly,” he said.

Oeurng Chantha, senior researcher of water resources at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia, said that there should be a more detailed environmental impact assessment on the dam.

He added that another dam on the Mekong river should not be considered in the next five or more years.

The improper flow of water during the dry season, sediment along the Mekong River, dam safety, and the impacts on fisheries were the main concerns, he said.

“I urge [the government] to have a clear study on technical, social and economic points to ensure that these kinds of consequences can be avoided, reduced,” he said.

The U.S.-based International Rivers group in January raised concerns over the dam.

“The Pak Beng Dam would have significant trans-boundary impacts on communities in Thailand and throughout the Mekong River Basin, compounding impacts from existing projects,” the release said.

It is expected that 25 villages in Laos and two villages in Thailand will be directly affected by construction of the Pak Beng dam, with an estimated 6,700 people re-settled, according to International Rivers.

Long Sochet, a Tonle Sap fishing community network representative, said that the Mekong River is a main source for water and fisheries of the Tonle Sap, which provides much of the protein content of Cambodians’ diet. He called for Mekong countries to pressure Laos not to construct the dam.

“I don’t support the dam construction on the mainstream Mekong since it can affect people’s living,” he said.

Te Navuth, secretary general of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, said that the Cambodia team will carry out an evaluation of the Pak Beng dam until May 2017 before forming a conclusion.

“We don’t have a clear stance yet since it is in the step of seeing the documents and evaluating,” Navuth said. However, he said the impacts on Cambodia would be minimal given the dam’s distance from Cambodia.

Navuth urged the environmental groups to listen to Laos’s side in the forthcoming two-day forum in Luang Prabang, organized by the Mekong River Commission (MRC).

“Wait and listen to Laos’ presentation on the project,” he said, adding that Cambodia’s government will hold internal meetings in March.

Laos, the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, plans to develop more dams to profit from electricity exports.

Vannara suggested alternatives for Laos to look at aside from constructing dams on the Mekong.

“If we look at Laos, it is mountainous, mostly. There are a lot of places to develop hydropower dams, why is it necessary to construct dams on the mainstream of the Mekong River, which causes controversies,” he said.