Five men representing their five villages made the journey to Phnom Penh late last week to deliver to officials a movie they made to express their concerns about a proposed dam in Stung Treng province, the men said Saturday.
The more than $600-million dam, which is being built by a Vietnamese company just below the confluence of the Sesan and Srepok rivers, would cause relocations of thousands and could hurt fishing for as many as 100,000 people up and downstream on the rivers, according to a May report by the Rivers Coalition in Cambodia, an alliance of NGOs. Fishing as far away as the Tonle Sap lake could be affected, the report warns. The official environmental impact assessment for the dam, which is nearly finalized, predicts far less severe consequences.
The video that the five men, who are from Ratanakkiri and Stung Treng provinces, brought to the capital was made over two months with the help of an independent American filmmaker, Daniel Lanctot, who trained the villagers, they said in an interview. The film shows residents speaking into a microphone at different sites and relating their concerns about the dam or, as is sometimes the case, their outright opposition.
“My first concern is that there will no longer be fish in our river,” a woman from Phluk village, in the commune of the same name, says in the video. Phluk village is downstream from the proposed dam, which is on the Sesan about 25 km from Stung Treng town and a kilometer downstream from the convergence of the Sesan and Srepok rivers.
The men from the villages went on Friday without appointments to the Environment Ministry, the Vietnamese Embassy and the Ministry of Agriculture’s Fisheries Administration, they said. Only officials at the Fisheries Administration took the 20-minute video, they said, but fisheries Director-General Nao Thuok said Sunday that he hadn’t seen the movie or heard of it.
“We brought the film to the Environment Ministry, but the officials did not let us in and they said we had to file an administrative form,” said Huon Kalem, 55, a Laotian ethnic minority from Ratanakkiri province’s Taveng district, which is upstream on the Sesan from the proposed dam. Mr Kalem, one of the five representatives, said he and the others faced a similar experience at the Vietnamese Embassy.
“We have already been affected by the dam in Vietnam, which caused dirty water, making people sick if they use the water,” Mr Kalem said, referring to a dam on the Sesan River built upstream in Vietnam.
“This film is just to get attention from the government,” he added.
Next, the five villagers said, they will send the video to the provincial governors in Stung Treng and Ratanakkiri, as well as to other officials.
Filmmaker Lanctot said the making of the movie, which had a public showing at Meta House arts center in Phnom Penh on Thursday night, was funded by a grant.
“The video is already a success,” he said Saturday, “because it provides a platform.”
A draft environmental impact assessment report completed last year stated that 453 households in Kbal Romeas commune, 332 households in Srekor commune, 267 in Talat commune and seven in Phluk commune face relocation because of the dam.
The EIA is in its final stage and will probably be presented to the Ministry of Environment for approval in the next few weeks, according to Taing Sophanara, an environmental specialist with Cambodian firm Key Consulting, which was hired by PECC-1, the Vietnamese company building the dam, to conduct the assessment.
He estimated that more than 1,100 families would be relocated for the dam, and said that compensation is still being negotiated.
Officials with the Ministry of Environment could not be reached for comment Sunday, nor could the provincial governors of Ratanakkiri or Stung Treng.
In March, laborers were already drilling to test potential sites for the dam. At that time, Stung Treng Provincial Governor Loy Phat said construction might begin by the end of 2009 or early 2010.
(Additional reporting by Neou Vannarin)