Cambodian villagers who have been relocated by the government from areas near the U.S. $781 million Lower Sesan 2 hydropower dam project on Mekong River tributaries said Thursday that they cannot eke out a living in their new locale.
Forty-seven families from Chrop village in Kbal Rormeas commune of Sesan district in northeastern Cambodia’s Stung Treng province where the dam is being built previously accepted an offer from the government to move to Sre Sranok village, but now complain that life in the new location is even worse than it was before.
The government gave each of the families five hectares of farmland, a house on a 20-by-50-meter (66-by-164-foot) plot, and U.S. $6,000 in cash for agreeing to move to Sre Sranok, about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from Chrop.
Srey Lebek, who used to live in Chrop, told RFA’s Khmer Service that the new land is too harsh for farming and that Sre Sranok is too far away from the fishing grounds on which many villagers rely to make a living.
“We have faced more hardship after moving here,” he said. “I would therefore like to call on the government and the company to reconsider its compensation policy to ensure that people’s livelihoods are better taken into consideration.”
Speaking at a forum in Phnom Penh on Thursday hosted by the NGO Forum in Cambodia, Srey Lebek said he has been frustrated by being too far away from where he used to fish in the Sesan River to make a living. He also said he cannot grow rice in the new location.
The displaced fisherman was speaking at a forum funded Oxfam, an international confederation of charitable organizations, to examine ways to resolve the problems faced by villagers affected by the construction of the dam, which is being built on two tributaries of the Mekong River.
The government's response
Norng Sareth, an official from the Ministry of Mines and Energy, said the provincial Department of Agriculture has assisted villagers with farming, and that some of the land the government distributed to them is suitable for growing crops.
He also said the government would consider giving other plots of farmland to villagers who contend that their current plots are nonarable.
Of the more than 800 families affected by the dam, only 13 percent have refused to accept compensation from the government, he said.
But villagers say that more than 1,000 families in four communes in Sesan district have been affected by the building of the 75-meter (246-foot) wide, six-kilometer (3.7-mile) long dam whose reservoir covers about 34,000 hectares of land.
Tek Vannara, executive director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, said the government should consider other options to appease the villagers who relocated but cannot make a living.
“An alternate and more acceptable option should be considered and discussed for the sake of the people affected,” he said. “There won’t be a better solution unless the issue is put on the table for a debate among all stakeholders.”
‘No better compensation’
Srey Sarum, an ethnic Laotian who lives in Sre Kor 1 village in the province’s Sre Kor 1 commune, said about 120 families in her village have refused to accept the government’s offer to move.
The main issue is that they do not want to move away from the sites where their ancestors are buried, she said.
“There is no better compensation than allowing us to live in our current village which we have called home for generations,” she said. “We cannot leave our farmland and the river on which our lives depend.”
The Lower Sesan 2 dam is expected to begin generating electricity in 2017. It is seen as a critical piece of Cambodia’s national power grid, and has been touted as a way to reduce the cost of electricity.
The dam along the Sesan River in northeastern Cambodia is being jointly developed by Cambodia’s Royal Group, Hydrolancang International Energy Co., and a subsidiary of Vietnam Electricity, and is expected to provide the government of Cambodia with around U.S. $30 million in tax revenue annually.
About 90 percent of the project, which began in February 2014, has been completed. When the Lower Sesan 2 dam becomes operational later this year, it will be Cambodia’s largest hydropower dam.
Villagers have campaigned against the dam, expressing concern about compensation for being displaced by the project, the destruction of protected forest areas and rivers they rely on for their livelihoods, and the disturbance of burial sites.
Reported by Savi Khorn for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.