Local government officials in a southern Cambodian province failed to evacuate villagers in time to prevent their homes and rice fields from flooding after the operators of a Chinese-built hydropower dam informed them a day earlier that they would open the facility’s gates to release excess water from heavy rains, an official said Wednesday.
The operator of the Kamchay Hydroelectric Power Plant on the Kamchay River in Kampot province had informed local authorities on Tuesday to prepare for flooding because it had to open the floodgates of the facility's dam, said Chhouk district governor Ouk Lay.
“The company had informed us to evacuate villagers to a safe zone,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service, adding that the flow of water was too great to for authorities to contain once it had been released.
The water from the dam flooded nearby rice paddies and the homes of 1,571 families in three communes in Chhouk district, he said.
So far, no one has died in the floods, and local authorities are evacuating villagers and evaluating the flood damage, although they have yet to complete any estimates of the destruction, he said.
“We have rented boats to evacuate the villagers,” Ouk Lay said. “The water is rising slowly, and the Red Cross is handing out [packages of] instant noodles to villagers directly at their houses. They are safe.”
Chhem Phalla, a villager whose house was flooded after water was released from the dam, said the flooding started on Tuesday and spread to several areas.
“The water is rising,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service. “The villagers have lost their livestock and their belongings. We assume that when the water recedes, fruit trees like the banana and papaya trees, will have been destroyed.”
The government’s meteorological service has forecast heavy rainfall until Friday.
The U.S. $280 million, 194-megawatt dam located on the Kamchay River supplies electricity to Kampot, the capital Phnom Penh and Preah Sihanouk province.
It was built and is operated by the Sinohydro Kamchay Hydroelectic Project Co. Ltd., a local subsidiary of the Chinese state-owned hydropower engineering and construction company Sinohydro Corp.
The dam was Cambodia’s first large-scale dam project built to ease the country’s chronic energy shortages.
Chinese-backed hydropower projects constructed in Cambodia’s Mekong River region, including dams in the southwestern provinces of Koh Kong and Pursat provinces, have all raised concerns among locals and rights groups about their social and environmental impacts.
Reported by Chandara Yang for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.