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Mekong Villagers Want Laos Dam Postponed

Cambodian fishermen move their fishing net from the Mekong River as they catch fish on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
Villagers from fishing communities along the Mekong River on Thursday urged the Cambodian government to negotiate with Laos over postponing a dam project slated to begin later this year.

Conservationists say the Don Sahong Dam could damage downstream fisheries and harm the well-being of the rare Mekong dolphin, a source of eco-tourism revenue for some Cambodian villages along the river.

“I would like to urge the Laotian government to consult in advance with countries downstream about trans-boundary impacts of this project, and I call on the Cambodian government to push the discussion at the upcoming meeting with Laos,” Pory Vanna, a representative from Koh Pdao, a dolphin eco-tourism site in Steung Treng province, told reporters Thursday.

The proposed dam project is planned for later this year, despite challenges from environmentalists and Cambodian and Vietnamese governments. The dam will be located at Khon Falls, a crucial habitat for fish and the Mekong River dolphin during the dry season, just 1 kilometer upstream from Cambodia.

Even construction of the dam could hurt the dolphins, who depend on echolocation and sound, rather than sight, said Gerry Ryan, a technical consultant with the World Wildlife Fund.

“Dolphins have very sensitive hearing, and the loud noises produced by explosions can damage their hearing system and potentially kill them,” he said.