“It’s rare to see the birds these days, they’re gone. They lived off the fish, but most of the fish are gone too,” says Vuth Khat as he tours what used to be his village in the northeastern Cambodian province of Stung Treng and talks about the survival of the Mekong.
In 2017, the village of Kbal Romeas was flooded to form a reservoir for the controversial Lower Sesan 2 hydropower dam, a 400-megawatt, USD 816 million joint venture between China’s HydroLancang International Energy, Royal Group of Cambodia, and state-owned Vietnam Electricity. Khat’s family was one of the 52 out of an estimated 500 who refused to leave when authorities offered compensation. Their 2017 protests went unheeded, and their village was flooded. Now, among the barren landscape of dead trees and dead fish, the last few remnants of Khat’s old way of life can be seen protruding from the reservoir’s depths. Underneath the water, he says, he lost two hectares of cashew crops and a hectare of rice.
The paint on his boat in Kbal Romeas is peeling in the heat and the sun has bleached the remains of trees to ashen grey stumps. The Lower Sesan 2 became a sore point among environmentalists and rights advocates, cutting off the intersection between the Sesan and Srepok rivers that feed the transboundary river and ensure the survival of the Mekong. But while the fate of Kbal Romeas – and that of Khat – has been sealed by Cambodia’s pursuit of power, conservationists say there is still time to avoid further destabilisation to the intricate ecosystem of the 3S rivers: the Sesan, Srepok and Sekong.
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