The Ministry of Mines and Energy will hold an auction next month putting up for sale four licenses to dredge sand along a stretch of the Mekong River, according to a statement posted to the ministry’s website on Tuesday.
“The Ministry of Mines and Energy will hold public bidding to recruit sand-dredging companies for the purpose of restoring navigation of the waterway,” reads the statement, which was signed by Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem.
The statement adds that the four lots to be auctioned are located along the Pralay Sdao Ta Ek section of the Mekong in Kompong Cham’s Kang Meas district and Kandal province’s Mok Kampoul and Khsach Kandal districts.
“The bidding is the first phase of the ministry’s push to provide licenses to sand-dredging companies,” ministry spokesman Meng Saktheara said Wednesday, adding that dredging of the river was to be allowed as the waterway had become impassable due to an accumulation of silt.
Mr. Saktheara also said the river’s flow was affecting National Road 6A, which runs alongside the Mekong.
“We have allowed dredging in order to cut the flow of water impacting the west bank of the river next to National Road 6A,” he said. “This will reduce the chances this bank will collapse.”
Last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a directive putting the Mines and Energy Ministry in charge of all aspects of licensing sand-dredging operations, removing the Water Resources Ministry from the process.
Mr. Saktheara said that the stretch of the Mekong where the four license areas were to be located was about 10 km long, but was unsure of the size of each area.
“The sand-dredging license will last two years and when those two years are finished, we will hold the bidding again,” he said.
Mr. Saktheara explained that the four plots to be auctioned were classified by the ministry as “green zones.”
“Green zones are the sand-dredging zones where there is no risk of riverbank collapse,” he said, noting that these areas were not subject to additional study before dredging commences.
Despite the ministry’s green zone claims, Om Savath, executive director of the Fisheries Action Coalition Team, a group of environmental NGOs, said he was concerned that the dredging could negatively impact the river and its surroundings.
“We are worried sand dredging will affect fish diversity in the river and cause riverbanks to collapse,” Mr. Savuth said.
“I do not believe what the ministry said about sand dredging not having an impact on the river.
“The ministry needs to prove there will be no impact on the environment and that the banks will not collapse with villagers’ homes into the river.”