Villagers in northern Cambodia’s Oddar Meanchey province on Tuesday urged the government to suspend construction of a Chinese-backed dam until they are promised compensation for flooding they say will inundate area communities, forests and farmland if the project is allowed to proceed.
The villagers from Oddar Meanchey’s Chong Kal district told RFA’s Khmer Service that Chinese developer Sinohydro had recently transported various pieces of equipment to nearby Phnom Atoar to assist in building the Steung Sreng II dam and demanded authorities suspend construction.
If the government is unwilling to compensate them for the losses they expect to incur, authorities should develop a plan to mitigate the potential impact of flooding caused by the dam, said the residents of Sras Keo village, in Chong Kal’s Pong Ro commune.
Khiev Pich, one of the villagers demanding compensation from the government, told RFA that farmland belonging to him and nearly 100 other families would be destroyed by flooding when Sinohydro’s dam project is complete.
“Presently, [the company] is digging soil to build the dam in order to block the water,” he said.
“They are digging it in such a way that later the area will be flooded during the rainy season [which typically lasts from the end of May through the first half of October].”
According to Khiev Pich, the dam construction—which has already been under way for several months—is also damaging crops and farmland in the area, but repeated complaints from villagers have gone unaddressed.
While Chong Kal district authorities have acknowledged the dam will create flooding that will affect farmland and villages in Pong Ro and Chong Kal communes, the local government has yet to address residents’ demand for compensation, he said.
Chong Kal district governor Rithy Pak told RFA he had recently been promoted to his position and was unaware of any government plans to mitigate flooding in the region.
But he said that the Oddar Meanchey provincial committee had previously conducted impact studies for Steung Sreng II and had decided to proceed with the project based on their findings.
“They have policies in place, such as setting up a land exchange program [for those affected] and budgeting [to address potential impacts],” he said, without providing further details.
In May, a study conducted by the Oddar Meanchey provincial committee in conjunction with several ministries found that Steung Sreng II will affect a number of families in parts of Anlong Veng, Chong Kal and Som Rong districts.
At the time, Oddar Meanchey governor Sor Thavy said the dam reservoir is expected to hold more than 20,000 cubic meters (706,300 cubic feet) of water for agricultural use in Oddar Meanchey, Banteay Meanchey and Siem Reap provinces.
State-owned construction company Sinohydro Corp. controls a 50-percent share of the international hydropower market, but its role in several controversial projects has long made it the focus of significant criticism, according to environmental watchdog International Rivers.
Last month, a dam built by its subsidiary as part of the Kamchay Hydroelectric Power Plant on the Kamchay River in Cambodia’s Kampot province opened its floodgates to release excess water from heavy rains, flooding nearby rice paddies and the homes of 1,571 families in Chhouk district.
Local government officials failed to adequately prepare for the flooding because they were only a day earlier informed by the dam’s operators that the floodgates would be opened, Chhouk district governor Ouk Lay told RFA at the time.
Chinese-backed hydropower projects constructed in Cambodia’s Mekong River region, including dams in the southwestern provinces of Koh Kong and Pursat provinces, have caused local residents and rights groups to raise concerns about their social and environmental impacts.
The latest controversy over a Chinese-backed dam comes days after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen concluded a week-long trip to China where he sought development assistance, promoted tourism and worked to attract investment at a series of international conferences.
On Oct. 15, he attended a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping where the two leaders oversaw the signing of five cooperation documents aimed at strengthening bilateral relations between Cambodia and China.
Hun Sen also secured a grant worth more than U.S. $150 million, the majority of which will go toward the construction of a massive sports and entertainment complex in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, the Cambodia Daily reported, citing a senior Cambodian official.
Reported by Hang Savyouth for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Khun Pagnawath. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.