A hydropower plant in Vietnam has not affected water quality in the Sesan River, which villagers in Ratanakkiri province have blamed for intestinal and skin infections, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong wrote in an letter to Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay on Friday.
“The International Mekong Commission cooperated with the National Mekong Committees of Cambodia and Vietnam to observe and test water samples in the dry and rainy seasons for one year, showing that there is no remarkable change of water quality,” he wrote.
Both Hor Namhong, in his letter, and an attached report by the Cambodia National Mekong Committee acknowledge that many problems are caused by wildly fluctuating water levels in the river.
“We recognize that the water level changes irregularly every day by one to one-point-five meters, causing danger to human lives and animals and destroying Cambodians’ crops, especially in Stung Treng and Ratanakkiri provinces,” Hor Namhong wrote.
Son Chhay, who is requesting an independent investigation and a visit to Vietnam’s 720-megawatt Yali Falls Dam in his new position as Chairman of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said tests on the river water were thus far inconclusive.
The Cambodia National Mekong Committee report attached to Hor Namhong’s letter states that the committee lacks the proper funds and scientific data to make any conclusions.
Kim Sangha, coordinator of the NGO Sesan River Protection Network, said the water quality could be fine one day and turbid the next, and that he suspected the samples were taken only on clean water days. He also said he supported calls for an inspection across the border in Vietnam.
“If we could take samples of the water stored at the Yali Dam, we could reveal how bad it is,” he said.
Long Saravuth, Deputy Director of the Ministry of Water Resources’ hydrology department, said that a yearlong study with monthly water samples had determined that water from the river was safe.