Indigenous families in Kbal Romeas village who were displaced last year by flooding from the reservoir of the Lower Sesan II Dam in Stung Treng province have been given new homes and hope for a better life in a new village along National Road 78.
The new village is one of three new resettlement villages funded by Lower Sesan Co. Ltd., which is undertaking the $816 million dam project in a joint venture with Cambodia’s Royal Group and Hydrolancang International Energy Co. Ltd.
The new village location, determined by villagers’ collective voting, is complete with facilities such as a school, clinic and pagoda, and also has infrastructure such as roads and electricity.
According to the chief of the new village, Kru You, the company built wooden houses and brick-wood houses for villagers.
“Each family was given five hectares for cultivation of cashew nut trees in addition to building water ponds around our land to facilitate irrigation,” he said.
He said in their old village on a bend of the Srepok River, life was hard because of poor living conditions in the rainy season due to floods.
“In the beginning we resisted efforts to relocate us, but after the government and the company staff explained things to us, we agreed, especially after we were given a tour of the new village they were building for us,” he said.
Krav Many, another village chief, said life in the new village is better.
“The houses are well-laid out. The road is better, and water and electricity are also well provided,” he said, adding the best part is the land titles provided to families.
In addition to cultivating cashew nuts, the villagers also plan to grow sesame, corn, rice, cassava and other crops, Mr Many said.
The dam project, due for completion in 2019, will generate 400 megawatts of power, which will supply Stung Treng, Kampong Cham, Kratie, Preah Vihear, and Ratanakkiri provinces with electricity, ending their dependence on electricity from Laos.
The government has been pushing new energy projects like Lower Sesan II to meet growing demand for power due to accelerated economic growth.
However, opponents of the project have argued that such dams cause irreversible damage to local ecosystems and disrupt the livelihoods of villagers, namely the indigenous communities that rely on fish for their food security and income.
For Kbal Romeas villagers, they had earlier resisted relocation as some of them felt the land offered per family was not suited for farming, and that the new village was too far from the forest and too close to major roadways.
They also felt it would be hard for them to leave behind the graves of ancestors, and give up the unity and collective identity of indigenous Bunong heritage.
But to date, almost all the 200 families who inhabited Kbal Romeas have left for the new village.