For decades, Nov Lun and his fellow fishermen harvested the rich bounty of the Sesan River in northeastern Cambodia. Then, three years ago, a giant hydroelectric power plant opened upstream from his village of Kumpun. Irregular water releases from the dam began regularly entangling his nets and dislocating his fishing boat. Fish started disappearing, and soon most of his livelihood had washed away. “The river has changed a lot,” says the 70-year-old Lun.
His story is not unique. In fact, others have fared even worse since the construction of the Lower Sesan 2 Dam, which is located near the confluence of the Sesan and Srepok rivers, large tributaries to the Mekong River. According to a Human Rights Watch report released last month, the dam has resulted in the displacement of nearly 5,000 inhabitants, mostly Indigenous people and other ethnic minorities who had lived in villages along the two rivers for generations. According to the report, people who were moved to make way for the dam were coerced into accepting inadequate compensation, provided with poor housing and few services at resettlement sites, and given no training in other ways to earn a living.
Notably, the report also concluded that the dam has harmed “the livelihoods of tens of thousands of others upstream and downstream,” underlining the ecological and economic importance of the so-called 3S rivers — Sekong, Sesan, and Srepok — which originate in Laos and Vietnam and flow into Cambodia where they eventually converge and join the Mekong.