Closed dam in Vietnam is leading to dry river beds in Cambodia

Residents from nearly 60 villages downstream have appealed to authorities for help.
By RFA Khmer
2024.05.10
Closed dam in Vietnam is leading to dry river beds in Cambodia The Sesan River, a tributary of the Mekong River, on May 3, 2024.
Citizen journalist

Authorities in Vietnam have stopped water flowing from a dam near the Cambodian border for two months, causing water levels in the Sesan River to drop or even run dry, affecting nearly 60 villages downstream in Cambodia, residents told Radio Free Asia.

The drop in the water level of the Sesan – a tributary of the Mekong River – has caused water shortages in the villages, made it hard to fish and affected the biodiversity of the river, they said. It’s also hurt tourism to the area.

The problem is affecting 57 villages in four districts in Ratanakkiri province, northeastern Cambodia, and residents have appealed to the government to talk to officials in Vietnam to address the issue related to the Sesan Yali Dam, they said.

It wasn’t immediately clear why Vietnam had stopped water from flowing through the Sesan Yali Dam, but residents said it does happen from time to time.

The authorities should coordinate with their counterparts in Vietnam so that this is no longer a problem, Ear Vuth, a representative of an indigenous community in the area, told RFA Khmer.

“If the water in the river has a problem like this, tourists will not come to visit the area,” he said. “That in turn stops the villagers from earning income."

So far authorities have done nothing to solve the issue, Klan Yan, the chief of another village, told RFA. 

"Recently, people are fishing using banned nets and sometimes electric shock at night,” he said. “As the local authority, I don’t know who I have to talk to, and Vietnam is another country entirely.”

RFA was not able to reach provincial governor Nhem Sam Oeun and Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology spokesman Chan Yutha, or the Vietnamese Embassy in Cambodia for comment. 

Turning off the water for people living downstream in another country is against the law and international principles, said Leang Bunleap, the executive director of an organization called the 3 Rivers Protection Network, or 3SPN.

"We should request that the Vietnamese government open the water to a level appropriate to the natural flow, and If they close the dam gate, they should let us know in advance,” he said. “It is very important for us to … share information with each other in accordance with national and international principles for the common good."

Translated by Sum Sok Ry. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.

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