Cambodian Officials To Tour Controversial Canal Project

Cambodian officials will tour a massive dike-building project just over the border with Vietnam that has sparked fears of flooding in Cambodia.

The So Ha-Cai So Canal Im­prove­ment Project calls for dredging an existing canal and building a 57-km-long embankment just beyond the borders of Prey Veng and Svay Rieng prov­inces in Vietnam, ac­cording to Viet­namese official documents on the can­al project.

Some 2,690 houses would be built atop the embankment to house families now living in flood-prone low-lying areas. The Viet­namese say it will help protect their people from the area’s annual flooding.

The project would help irrigate 19,000 hec­tares of land in Viet­nam, according to its supporters.

But “if the project is not de­signed properly, it will cause floods in Cambodia,” said Pich Dun, deputy secretary-general of the Cambodian National Mekong Committee, which manages de­velopment along the Mekong River.

The project might back up water that would normally flow into Vietnam and drain out into the Mekong River, he said.

Some officials have blamed Vietnamese dam construction for an increase of the severity and death tolls in the annual floods over the last few years.

In the case of the So Ha-Cai So Canal project, the Viet­namese government has prom­ised that there will be 20 spillways de­signed into the embankment to allow floodwaters to pass through, “but we are still concerned,” Pich Dun said.

The borders may also be un­certain in the area, he said. Vietnamese officials agreed to let Cambodian officials tour the project site during a Mekong River Commission meeting held earlier this month, said Sin Niny, vice-chair of the Cambodia National Me­kong Committee.

The tour is scheduled to occur in August, when officials can observe the effects of flooding, he said. “This is a very, very good sign” of improved relations be­tween the two countries, Sin Niny said.

Activists are concerned that the rapid and often haphazard pace of development in the region has jeopardized people living here.


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