LAOS – While fears have been raised over the imminent construction of the Don Sahong dam in Laos, environmentalists on Monday said Cambodia should not forget that it has a project of its own that would be equally as disastrous to the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands people in the country.
Laos announced last week that construction will begin next month on the 240-MW Don Sahong dam, leading the WWF, an international conservation group, to call for an urgent meeting between Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam to discuss the dam’s impact.
But the Lower Sesan 2 dam in Stung Treng province, where preparatory work has begun, will also have a devastating impact on Cambodians whose livelihoods depend on the Mekong and should not be forgotten, environmental groups said.
“The Don Sahong dam and the Lower Sesan 2 dam are the two greatest threats facing Cambodia’s fisheries today. Should either of these projects be built, the implications on people’s livelihoods, health, and nutrition are likely to be devastating,” said Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for International Rivers.
Although Cambodia has not announced a start-date for construction on the Lower Sesan 2, located on a tributary of the Mekong in Stung Treng province’s Sesan district, preparatory work began earlier this year.
“While the Lower Sesan 2 dam’s reservoir is already being cleared, its not too late to stop this project. With a new government in place and promises of reform, hydropower dams should be seen as a national security issue, rather than purely an environmental matter,” Ms. Trandem said.
Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology Lim Kean Hor, who is also chairman of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) in Cambodia, and newly appointed Environment Minister Say Sam Al declined to comment on the dams.
Mr. Sam Al’s cabinet chief, Sao Socheat, said that he did not know whether the government would react to the Don Sahong, nor if construction on the Lower Sesan 2 would commence.
“Because we don’t know in-depth about this project, but we will look into environmental impacts and other impacts on agriculture sectors to make sure there is a balance between development and protection,” he said.
With the construction of the Don Sahong set to start in less than a month and the Xayaburi in Laos already under construction, environmentalists fear that work will now go ahead on other planned dams in the region.
“Now, everybody has to respect the MRC, otherwise we all kill the river, the biodiversity and all the fish if we don’t. It’s millions and millions of people whose livelihood depends on river and fish,” said Chhit Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum.
A total of 11 dams are planned on the Lower Mekong—seven in Laos, two on the Thai-Lao border and two in Cambodia. If all are built, the dams would produce about 13,500 MW of power, bringing economical benefits and development to the region, according to a 2010 report by the International Center for Environmental Management for the Mekong River Commission.
Cambodia, the report found, would be most affected by the dams.
“Cambodia is likely to bear the brunt of the decline in fisheries due to the importance of this sector and the dependence of large sections of the population on fisheries for their livelihoods and as a key source of nutrition. Domestic hydropower projects will bring benefits but [it] is not clear whether the financial and economic gain these may imply will offset the less obvious costs borne by fisheries dependent populations,” the report states, adding that the dams would lead to a direct loss of 340,000 tons of fish per year regionally, equaling about $467 million.