By May Titthara
Sekong River, Cambodia, January 7, 2016
More than 90 percent of people affected by the $800 million Lower Sesan II hydroelectricity project want the government to halt construction of the dam and the area turned into one of the world’s largest eco-tourism reserves, a survey released yesterday by the NGO Forum found.
One of the survey’s authors, Kem Ley, who is also a political analyst, said the compensation and resettlement process was inconsistent and lacked transparency and the whole project was undermined by the lack of community consultation from the beginning.
“About 93 percent of those affected demand the government cancel the construction project because they don’t want to lose their culture and their burial and spiritual lands,” he said.
Lower Sesan II will flood 336 square kilometers and force about 5,000 people – including minority ethnic groups – from their homes.
Pha Vy, a member of the tribal groups, said she would rather die in her village than leave the ancient and spiritual lands where her parents and other family members are buried.
“I am not against development projects,” she said, “but my life depends on the river. If I lose the river, I will die.”
Another village representative, Sry Libi, said: “The government should provide a timeline to the villagers to give them time to talk to the companies about a compensation deal that both parties can accept.”
The 75-meter high dam on the Se Kong River – 1.5 kilometers downstream from the confluence of the Se San and the Sre Pok rivers and about 25 kilometers upstream from the Mekong – is due to be completed in 2019 and is a joint venture between Cambodia’s Royal Group, which owns 39 percent of the project; China’s Hydrolancing International Energy, 51 percent; and, EVN International, with the remaining 10 percent.
The 400 MW plant will supply power to four provinces besides Stung Treng: Kampong Cham, Kratie, Preah Vihear and Ratanakiri, ending their reliance on power imports from Laos.
Stung Treng deputy provincial governor Doung Pao rejected the survey’s findings, saying 60 percent of families affected had agreed to compensation and he questioned the study’s independence.
“I am the authority working to help the villagers,” he said. “I will also not allow my people to just live in the jungle.”
Secretary of State for the Mines and Energy Ministry Ith Prang also rejected the study and questioned its independence and said it did not provide scientific evidence for its figures. “That survey report is not acceptable. It’s not independent enough and it should not have been published,” he said.
Mr. Ley said the opposition was typical of the culture of government officers.
“What if Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house was taken over one day by a private company and he lost everything? How would he feel?”