PHNOM PENH —
Along the lower Sesan River, villagers say they fear what a move will mean when a hydropower dam comes to Stung Treng province.
Last month, hundreds of them marched along the river, protesting the construction of the dam, which would force as many as 1,500 families to resettle.
In interviews with VOA Khmer, many here say they fear starting over, planting new crops, and losing a way of life that relies on fish in a part of the river that will become flooded when the project is finished.
“Of course there will be nothing,” said Noy Phut, a fisherman in Srek Kor village, Sesan district. “I definitely won’t be able to catch any fish when they build the dam, because this area will be inundated.”
The lower Sesan dam is expected to produce 400 megawatts of power, at a cost of about $781 million. It will be run by Hydropower Lower Sesan 2, Ltd., a joint venture between Cambodian, Chinese and Vietnamese companies.
“After its approval, people living along the river are worried about resettlement,” said Fut Khoeun, a villager here. “We don’t want to move to a new location, because it’s difficult for us to start a new life with new rice fields and new planting.”
In last month’s march, villagers rode motorbikes and small tractors called mechanical cows along the river, to pray at the resting place of their ancestors 20 kilometers from the village. Some here say they hope the spirits of their ancestors will stop the dam and prevent relocation.
“In this area, people are farmers,” said Chan Thun, a representative of the villagers. “If we move to rocky land, how can we farm?”
The government says the number of displacements is being exaggerated and that the dam is needed to help the country’s economic growth. Villagers say that won’t include them.
“The growth is just for the big guys in the city,” said Set Kal, a farmer. “But people here have nothing.”
Meanwhile, environmental activists say the dam won’t be worth the ecological cost and may not even produce as much electricity as promised.
But out here, villagers, many of whom belong to ethnic minorities, say it will destroy their livelihoods and traditions.
“It affects so much,” said Seak Mekong, Sre Kor’s commune chief. “And in the future, the children of this village and commune will become workers for other people, because of the loss of resources here.”