Workers in Stung Treng province have begun clearing forested land with chainsaws in order to make way for the reservoir of a massive hydropower dam that has drawn ire from local villagers who say they have not been informed about the dam’s construction plans.
The National Assembly approved the financing for the 400-megawatt Lower Sesan 2 dam in February amid objections from opposition lawmakers who argued that the social and environmental impacts of the dam outweighed its benefits.
The dam is set to displace more than 5,000 villagers, and studies have shown that up to 100,000 residents upstream and downstream of the dam will be severely affected by its impact on fisheries.
Siek Mekong, chief of Srekor commune, said a team of roughly 20 workers for the joint venture by local conglomerate Royal Group and China’s Hydrolancang International Energy Co. Ltd. had started felling trees in the area on March 21.
“They came to clear the reservoir without cooperating with authorities and I am wondering why they are cutting down luxury grade wood,” Mr. Mekong said. “I think they have violated the rights of local authorities. They never inform authorities before acting.”
As part of the law on the financing for the dam, a total of $10 million has been set aside to compensate the families. A further $19.34 million will be spent on home construction, $1.98 million on income rehabilitation and $3.23 million on irrigation systems.
But Mr. Mekong said he is worried that villagers would see little benefit from the construction of a dam in the area.
“I have raised the point in meetings with the provincial governor and the committee in charge of the dam that when the company starts clearing land for the reservoir, they must hire locals. But they didn’t,” he said.
Officials at Royal Group could not be reached. However, Stung Treng provincial governor Loy Sophat said that the firm was doing nothing wrong and had been given full approval by the government to move ahead with its operations.
“It is not true what the commune chief is saying. We don’t hire locals because the locals do not want to work,” he said. “We need to hire from provinces such as Kompong Cham and Prey Veng.”