Nearly 100 families in two communes affected by flooding from the reservoir of the controversial Lower Sesan 2 mega-dam in northeastern Cambodia’s Stung Treng province said Tuesday that authorities have failed to honor promises they made to rebuild their submerged communities and provide much-needed supplies and services.
Forty-seven families in Kbal Romeas commune and 50 in Sre Kor commune, who refused to relocate for the hydropower project, have turned down compensation from the joint venture that built Cambodia’s largest dam on the Sesan River, a major tributary of the Mekong River, after the facility went online in November 2017 and submerged their homes.
The project — a joint venture between Cambodia’s Royal Group and China’s state-owned Hydrolancang International Energy Company Ltd. — has come under intense fire by locals and green groups for its negative social and environmental impacts.
Before the two ethnic Pnong communes were inundated with water, authorities shut down health clinics, fired school teachers, and ordered monks to move, while villagers who resisted relocating were told that the state would give them new land and that the joint venture would pay them compensation.
In late July, Stung Treng’s Deputy Governor Chea Thavrith told villagers who refused to accept the money that provincial authorities would rebuild roads and schools, provide health services and fresh water resources, and register their communal land.
But villagers told RFA’s Khmer Service that officials have not kept their word.
Villager Kim Doeung said local authorities and the joint venture are offering different compensation options to those affected by the flooding, but that the villagers will not accept any money because they want officials to build them a new community.
“The authorities have not honored their promises,” he said. They have betrayed us … We don’t trust them,” he said.
Another villager, Srang Lang, said residents are dying a slow death because they cannot survive without roads and schools.
When her village was inundated by the dam’s reservoir last year, the flooding destroyed property and schools, she said.
Since then, villagers have had neither potable water nor access to health care services, she said.
At least five people died because they could not be transported to health care facilities, Srang Lang said.
“We are very worried,” she said. “It is now November, and we don’t have enough water, and we don’t have any roads or schools.”
Sovann Piseth, acting governor of Sesan district, declined to comment on the situation when contacted by RFA, but he referred a reporter to a provincial committee in charge of resolving the villagers’ issues.
“I don’t have any information,” he said. “It is beyond my position to comment. The provincial level is working on it.”
Yong Kim Eng, president of the People Center for Development and Peace, said authorities must resolve the villagers’ concerns because they are losing their trust in them.
“The authorities must speed up helping the villagers,” he said. “They shouldn’t let them wait too long.”
In the meantime, villagers whose communities are submerged have been living in temporary shelters on nearby hills.
Despite the holdouts, more than 5,000 villagers were forced to vacate about 74,000 acres of forest and farmland that were flooded by the dam’s huge backwater lake.
The floodgates of the U.S. $781 million Lower Sesan 2 dam were closed in September 2017, and the facility’s first turbine began producing electricity two months later.
All eight turbines of the 400-megawatt capacity dam became fully operational this month.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.