Cambodians displaced by dam struggle to retain their identity

Villagers who had to leave homes flooded in 2017 by the Lower Sesan 2 dam have seen their culture and livelihoods eroded.

My ancestors are buried here,” 23-year-old Yem Thavdy points to a spot on the Sesan River, a tributary of the Mekong in Cambodia’s northern province of Stung Treng. She rows the boat across an expanse that was land before the US$781 million Lower Sesan 2 dam flooded it in 2017.

The 400-megawatt hydropower dam, Cambodia’s largest, came online in 2018 and is meant to supply nearly 80% of the capital Phnom Penh’s power. To make it possible, 34,000 hectares of forested land have been flooded, resulting in the relocation of some 2,700 households from seven riverine villages.

Those such as Thavdy who refused government offers of US$6,000, a house and a five-acre plot in a resettlement site have been struggling with losing much of their culture and means of making a living.

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