sesan district, Stung Treng province – About 300 workers from a Vietnamese company looking to build a controversial $662 million dam in Stung Treng province have begun drilling as part of the early stages of the project, though government officials say approval of the dam has not been finalized.
Standing on one of eight drilling stations in Sesan district’s Phluk commune, site foreman Pinh Tom Liem, of Vietnamese company PECC-1, said he has been told construction of the Lower Sesan II dam has been approved, and that he and his workers are drilling rocks to identify the best spot to begin constructing a 420-megawatt dam.
“We are here testing the rocks only, and after we finish other workers will come and begin building,” he said Saturday.
But Stung Treng Provincial Governor Loy Phat said the construction of the dam has not yet been approved, though he said the workers’ drilling into the rocks does not mean construction is underway.
“This is the third phase of [the] project; the construction may start by the end of 2009 or earlier 2010,” he said, adding that villagers in Srekor, Kbal Romea, and Talat communes will be affected and be relocated to a nearby area.
“The government has already approved compensation for villagers,” he said.
But a draft Environmental Impact Assessment report completed in June also listed Phluk commune with the other three, saying a small number of families would have to be relocated. According to the draft report, 453 households in Kbal Romeas commune, 332 households in Srekor commune, 267 in Talat commune and seven in Phluk commune faced relocation.
“New resettlement places [need to be arranged] with appropriate location and size‚” for the affected people “to meet the equivalent or better to what they have at the present,” the report states.
A final EIA—being conducted by Cambodian firm Key Consultants—was expected in July last year, officials said at the time, but Environment Ministry officials said Sunday it had not yet been completed.
“The company did not yet submit the EIA report‚” to the Ministry of Environment, said Duong Samkeat, deputy director of the ministry’s EIA department. “The government has not yet authorized for the company to begin construction.”
NGO officials and villagers living near the dam site—located on the Sesan River about 25 km from Stung Treng town and a kilometer away from the convergence of the Sesan and Srepok rivers—have voiced concerns over the dam, which they say will displace thousands of people and devastate local wildlife, as well as cause heavy flooding.
Sitting beside the Sesan, about 15 km downstream from where the workers were drilling Saturday, Eur Phun, a 47-year-old fisherman and farmer in Phluk, a village of about 750 people, said the fact that authorities have had not been told anything about the nearby dam project is a big concern for him.
“I am so worried about facing the difficulties [the dam will cause]. We will lose our jobs, have no money, we cannot fish and we will not have enough water,” he said. “Our livelihood will be changed if the dam is finished.”
Another Phluk villager, 56-year-old Kam Misothy, expressed her own concerns about the planned dam.
“Yes, I am scared. We are scared if the dam collapses, we all will go with the water; it will take our life,” she said. “I am also worried about the water pollution,” she added.
In a letter to Key Consultants last year, the NGO Rivers Coalition in Cambodia raised concerns about transparency and openness regarding the dam’s impacts, saying that not enough details were being provided to potentially affected villagers.
“As the complete draft EIA report and full project details have yet to be publicly disclosed, and the section that is available is available only in [the] English language, it is difficult to adequately comment on the Environment Management Plan,” the letter states.
“As the Lower Sesan II dam project will affect thousands of people living along the Sesan, Srepok, Sekong and Mekong rivers and Tonle Sap lake, the draft EIA report should be made public for comment and review prior to finalization, in order to ensure accuracy in terms of content and the potential impacts of this dam,” the letter continued.
But Loy Phat, the provincial governor, defended the communication efforts, saying multiple public workshops on the dam had been held.
“The dam impact conferences have been done many times, including at the governmental and provincial level,” he said.
He said the government would protect the villagers, and said that the dam would bring electricity to Stung Treng, Ratanakkiri, Kratie, Mondolkiri and Preah Vihear provinces, outweighing the negative effects.
A presentation made to NGO workers by the Japan International Cooperation Agency in December shared the villagers’ concerns. In the presentation, JICA listed the Lower Sesan II project as the most harmful to the environment in several categories, including the number of households and area of farmland and primary forest affected.
According to a report summarizing the forum, the project’s potential environmental impacts include endangering 1,347 hectares of farmland and 28,486 hectares of primary forest—the latter being more than 80 percent of the nearly 34,000 hectares of forest land to be affected by the seven dams discussed in the report. Also, according to multiple NGO officials who attended the forum, the dam was listed as the most dangerous on a list of JICA’s top 10 priority dams in Cambodia, though the information was not included in the report.
Officials at KCC could not be reached Sunday. Repeated phone calls to PECC-1’s Hanoi office went unanswered last week.