The Mines and Energy Ministry yesterday confirmed the newly-approved Master Plan 2020-2030 will not include the construction of new hydropower dams along the Mekong River.
The Ministry’s Director-General of Energy Victor Jona said the decision was made based on the results of a recent environmental impact assessment, which concluded in February. He, however, did not specify the details of the study.
He added the government is now reviewing its policy on energy development while weighing the viability of other alternatives such as coal, natural gas and solar power.
“The Master Plan 2020-2030 does not include any hydropower dams on the Mekong. To keep development sustainable in the long run, we need thorough evaluations and studies which focus on minimising negative environmental effects,” Mr Jona told Khmer Times yesterday.
The government had earlier announced plans to erect two dams at Kratie’s Sambour district and Stung Treng province, which spurred negative reactions from various parties, including local fishing communities, non-profit groups and environmentalists.
International Rivers, an NGO based in the United States, had previously slammed the decision, labelling it a “tragic and costly mistake for Cambodia”.
“If built, it would block major fish migrations between Southern Laos and Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake, destroy critical deep pool fish habitats, interrupt the river’s hydrological, sediment, and nutrient cycles and impact the river’s wider ecology,” the statement reads.
However, when asked if this was a temporary suspension, Mr Jona only responded with: “All future developments must be vibrant and adaptable to changes”.
The announcement was welcomed by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Cambodia Country Director Teak Seng, who said that it was the best decision for both people and nature.
“WWF commends the Cambodian government for ruling out the hydropower dam development and instead pursuing other energy sources such as solar to meet the Kingdom’s power demand,” he said.
“We are ready to work with the government to support development of a system-wide sustainable energy plan that promotes clean and renewable energy alternatives, contributing to the country’s energy goals without building dams on Cambodia’s remaining free-flowing rivers,” Mr Seng added.
WWF Freshwater Lead (Asia Pacific) Marc Goichot said the 10-year moratorium on mainstream dams on the Mekong River is the best possible news for the sustainable future of the tens of millions of people living alongside it.
The decision, he added, will help protect the rich biodiversity that depends on the Mekong River, especially the world’s largest population of Irrawaddy river dolphins.
“The science clearly shows those dams would significantly reduce wild fisheries and block sediment flows, speeding up the sinking and shrinking of the delta and threatening the future of Vietnam’s major rice basket, countless fishing communities and long-term economic sustainability,” he said in a statement yesterday.
“Cambodia’s correct decision is an example for other countries, recognising free-flowing rivers provide invaluable benefits for people and countless wild species that depend on it.”
The Greater Mekong is home to more than 20,000 species of plants, 1,200 bird species, 800 species of reptiles and amphibians and 430 mammal species. Over 1,300 new species have been catalogued since 1997, according to Biodiversity and Fisheries in the Mekong River Basin’s report.
Within the Mekong River system, it said there are flourishing fisheries which exploit a large number of species. Estimates indicate approximately 120 fish species are commercially traded, although the bulk of the fishery is based on 10-20 species.