By Dr Lilliana Corredor- on behalf of Scientists for the Mekong
Stung Treng, Cambodia, February 11, 2016
The controversial Lower Sesan 2 Dam (LS2 Dam) is being built in the worse possible location: at the junction of two of the most important tributaries of the Lower Mekong River in northern Cambodia, i.e. the Sesan River & Srepok River.
This dam has received strong opposition and criticism from scientists, fisheries experts, NGOs and Human Rights groups. The dam will be located at a vital junction for the reproductive migration of dozens of Mekong River fish species. Hence, blocking this passage to two main rivers will alter significantly the reproduction of these species, biodiversity and fisheries of the area; and, will also have a major impact on the Mekong River itself as vital nutrient rich sediments are blocked by this massive dam.
More importantly, thousands of families in SIX Villages in northern Cambodia will be displaced. A village located immediately downstream from the Lower Sesan 2 Dam has already been relocated. The remaining FIVE villages will be ‘drowned’ and the communities will be relocated to give way to the reservoir of the (LS2 Dam) in 2017. The villages to be drowned are:
- On the Sesan River: Srae Kor Mouy (1) & Srae Kor Pei (2).
- On the Srepok River: Sre Sronok, Krabei Chrun & Kbal Romeas. (See Map below – Srekor Mouy, Srekor Pei don’t show )
Over 500 families living in the Mekong towns of Srae Kor 1 & 2 -on the Sesan River, have strongly rejected this dam project from the time they were informed it would go ahead.
During a Community Meeting held on the 3 February 2016, the Srae Kor Community asked the assistance of Scientists for the Mekong to publicise their case and their petition for fair Compensation for the loss of their homes, agricultural lands, harvests & livestock – as a result of their property being “drowned” by the reservoir for the Lower Sesan 2 Dam.
Below are the main points highlighted by the 60 members of the Srae Kor 1 Community who attended the Meeting:
- The community claims the Cambodian government advised them in late 2013 that the LS2 Dam would be built and they would have to evacuate the area.
- Construction started in 2014, despite the communities rejecting the project.
- The community says they sent signed petitions to all the Cambodian government authorities, the Developer and even to the National Assembly, rejecting the LS2 Dam project. They were told the government would solve the situation for them. But, nothing happened and construction went ahead.
- Cambodian government representatives returned to advise the communities they would be forcibly displaced as their houses, lands and property will be submerged by the reservoir.
- The government then offered the following Compensation alternatives to the villagers:
- A house in a lot size: 100 m x 50 m + 5 hectares of land; or
- USD $6,000 + 5 hectares of land.
- The LS2 Dam is at present over 40% complete.
- The community was informed they will have to evacuate their homes & lands no later than October/ November 2017.
- The men in the villages are mostly fishermen. They claim all families have an average of 2-3 hectares of productive fertile land, which mostly the women use to cultivate their food. They say they also have well established fruit trees that complement their meagre diet of fish.
- Villagers reported that since the dam construction started:
“Fish populations have dropped so much, there’s very little fish available to us”.
See short video, of a fisherman on the Sesan River in front of Srae Kor village. He didn’t catch a single fish in the half hour we observed him. Before the dam was built he would get a lot of fish in that time: https://youtu.be/JTwUABfcFtQ
- Water quality is very bad since the dam started construction. Villagers report severe cases of vomiting and diarrhoea, with children being the most affected. The women explained: “Whilst before we could drink the Sesan River water, we now have to boil the water. Children, however, play in the river and drink river water, reason why they are mostly sick, with severe vomiting & diarrhoea.”
(N.B. These two important issues are a common occurrence in all towns affected by dams,according to villagers we have interviewed. Yet people are not being compensated for these losses.)
- The village chief told us: “The EIA said there would be a lot of fish in the Dam after construction and we were told we could fish it.”
(To this we replied, that in other dams in Laos and Vietnam, the fish populations in the reservoirs collapsed after about 2 years as fish could not migrate to reproduce.)
- 246 families have chosen to leave the village and accepted the compensation offered. However, most families who had accepted the compensation returned to the village after they checked out the houses and the land offered by the government as compensation.
- The villagers are very dissatisfied with the compensation offered to them. They complained that the land offered is in a remote forest area, far away from the river they love and the source of their food and livelihood. They claim the size of the houses is too small and not as promised.
- 254 families refuse to leave… Of these, some say they may leave if offered fair compensation.
- See short video of family stating they will not relocate (in Khmer, with English comments): https://youtu.be/Ygkp7xlAiv8
“The lots are not of the size promised, i.e. 100 m x 50 m.
Instead, the house lots are only 25 m x 50 m. And, the quality of the land is so poor we cannot grow any food on it.
So how are we going to live if we cannot fish and cannot grow our food?
The government says they are helping us get a better life, but they are sending us into worse poverty. We will rather die than accept their compensation.”
Below are photos of the Relocation scheme for the villages of Sre Sronok & Krabei Chrun in the Srepok River, in northern Cambodia. This new resettlement area is located along the route to Ratanakiri province, around 50 Km from the LS2 dam.
The remaining communities of Srae Kor Mouy, Srae Kor Pei & Kbal Romeas still need to be relocated.
It is obvious from the photos above, why the communities refuse to leave their houses and river and why they reject the “Relocation scheme”… It is ridiculous for fishermen to be relocated to a highway, and so far from the river they know and love…
It can be clearly seen that the land surrounding the houses is too small and barren. This “Compensation scheme” in no way “improves the lives nor the standard of living of the displaced communities” as falsely advertised !
See short video of Community Meeting in Srae Kor clearly stating they will not relocate as the compensation scheme is so bad (in Khmer, with English comments):
Locals demand the Cambodian Government and the Lower Sesan 2 Dam Developer compensate them fairly or else they refuse to leave. In their petition the Srae Kor Community stipulate clearly the compensation points sought.
The lists above were sent to the developer and authorities but the villagers have received no reply. These lists include compensation for: USD $30,000 per house, costs of different trees, etc.
We stressed the importance for communities affected by the Hydropower Dams to hold both the Developer and the Government accountable.
We advised the Community to seek legal aid via LICADHO – an NGO that will help them get free lawyers to represent them in court. We suggested the villagers ask their lawyers to seek an injunction against the Developer, if necessary to stop construction of the Dam until such a time as the Developer signs legal documents agreeing to fair compensation in consultation with the affected communities.
We also suggested they seek assistance of ADHOC or EIR – NGOs that address the issues of Human Rights abuses, such as in this case. It is unacceptable to place thousands of families into further poverty without appropriate compensation. As it is, these people will be dispossessed and relocated, besides loosing their livelihoods and cultural sites. Therefore, the least companies that will be making millions of dollars at their cost and suffering can do is to pay them a fair compensation and ensure the people are not driven into deeper poverty.
We offered to publicise their story in this website, through social media and through our future Submission to all Lower Mekong Countries regarding the Impacts of Hydropower Dams on the Lower Mekong River.
Some families, however, refuse to leave no matter the compensation…
A middle-aged lady told me with tears in her eyes:
“I will rather drown in my house. I will not leave, no matter what they offer me.”
I cried with her and others who joined us…
P.S. These notes were taken during our Mekong Reconnaissance Journey, assessing the impacts of Hydropower Dams on the Mekong River, its communities, fisheries, water quality and dolphins in February 2016.