Protesters Want Mekong Dams Stopped

Pech Sotheary / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Two well known activists who joined yesterday’s protest. Supplied

About 20 environmental activists called on the government to stop all new dam projects on the Mekong River to protect fish stocks and communities slated to be affected by construction.
The appeal was made by the group as they gathered in front of the parliament building in Phnom Penh yesterday morning, before marching to the Environment Ministry holding solar panels and a drawing representing biogas as they called for alternative, less destructive ways of generating electricity to be built instead.
No steps were taken by authorities to hinder or stop the march.
Sen Bo, a representative of Pursat province’s fishermen, said his members were very worried by news of the government’s proposed Sambo Hydro dam. The dam in Kratie province will lead to a projected 2,000 evictions from nearby settlements.
Mr. Bo said it would also cause “serious harm” to the Tonle Sap Lake.
“Normally, if there is no dam, the water flowed about 62 percent into the Tonle Sap Lake. But if there is a dam, the water can flow into Tonle Sap Lake only 20 percent,” he said.
“So the water that flows will be very little, and there will be no water for 647,000 hectares of forest around the lake.
“Plus, with the hot weather, all the forest will be lost by fire. And when it has burned down, fisheries will also be damaged and then who will face difficulties? It will be fishermen and the poor around the Tonle Sap Lake.”
Chan Samnang, a sociology student at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said based on experiences from dams elsewhere along the river in Laos and Vietnam, the eviction of local communities was necessary because of the destruction of their villages, forests and farms and the associated deforestation, meaning the environmental impact is large.
“The government should start to consider the use of renewable energy, rather than dam construction,” he said, suggesting that solar and biogas could provide adequate energy without the environmental and social destruction.
Tun Leang, a spokesman for the Ministry of Mines and Energy in charge of the energy sector, could not be reached for comment, while another ministry spokesman, Dith Tina, declined to comment.
NGO Forum director Tek Vannara echoed Mr. Samnang, calling on the government to increase its study of alternative energy sources.
“[Then] we can compare if an option is good on the value of its use, for example if it is better for the environment and does not affect our society,” he said.
“Then the government can make the correct decision and all aspects of the country’s economy, environment and society can profit.”
Yesterday’s march followed a similar one at the end of September, during which youth groups and activists submitted a petition to the ministries of environment and mines and energy, requesting detailed information on the Sambo Hydro dam project. Neither ministry has yet responded to their request.
The petition stated their concerns about the proposed construction, which is projected to produce up to 2,600 megawatts of electricity, but which opponents claim will harm the endangered river dolphins native to the area, cause large-scale loss of forest and the eviction of whole communities.

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