More Than 1,000 Families in Cambodia Suffer After Flooding of Mekong River Tributary

The families have faced food and water shortages, as well as a lack of sanitation, for more than a week.

Livestock float on makeshift rafts amid flooding in Stung Treng province's Talat commune, Aug. 20, 2018.

More than 1,000 families in northeast Cambodia’s Stung Treng province are facing extreme difficulties after heavy rainfall led a tributary of the Mekong River to flood their commune for the third time in a month, according to residents, who said a controversial hydropower dam was to blame.

Pey Mey, a resident of Sesan district’s Talat commune, told RFA’s Khmer Service on Tuesday that the Sesan River had overflowed its banks for the third time since the end of July, forcing the families from five villages in the commune to evacuate to higher ground.

After a week living in a tent community above the inundated village tracts, and with rain continuing to fall, the families are now facing a shortage of food and fresh water, as well as a lack of sanitary conditions, he added.

“We are facing serious hardships on the high ground area because it’s unsafe and the rainfall has not stopped,” he said, adding that the sodden land had made it difficult to keep tents aloft.

“The high ground area is located in the jungle, and it’s not clear if it will remain safe from the flooding.”

The villagers’ rice paddies and plantations have been flooded for around a week, he said, adding that the crops had likely been destroyed.

“It’s really because of the hydropower dam that the flooding occurred,” he said, adding that “if it was only the rainfall, it wouldn’t be this bad.”

Talat commune chief Soeng Khong confirmed to RFA that all of the all area’s rice fields and plantations had been flooded, but said he had yet to receive a full report of the damage.

The U.S. $781 million Lower Sesan 2 hydropower dam’s floodgates were closed in September last year and began producing electricity two months later. The 400-megawatt capacity dam is expected to come fully online later this year.

But the project, which is a joint venture between Cambodia’s Royal Group and China’s Hydrolancang International Energy, has faced criticism over its social and environmental impacts.

Speaking to RFA on Tuesday, Leang Bunleap, the executive director of the 3S Rivers Protection Network, said that if rainfall continues, flooding from the Lower Sesan 2 would be compounded by the release of reservoir water from dams upstream in neighboring Vietnam, which would cause additional swelling of the river in Stung Treng.

“Villagers evacuated to the high ground posted photos on Facebook showing … that there is a severe shortage of food,” he said.

“But [the situation may worsen as] the water level from the hydropower dams … will rise when the floodgates are opened.”

Keo Vy, the spokesman for Cambodia’s National Committee for Disaster Management, recently told the local media that at least 18 people had been killed and more than 40,000 families affected by flooding from heavy rains since the end of July.

He was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Vanrith Chrea. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.