By Khoun Narim
Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April 16, 2016
Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday disputed the idea that water shortages along the Mekong River have been exacerbated by two massive hydropower dams being developed by Laos, saying the drought currently afflicting much of mainland Southeast Asia was caused only by “the sky.”
Speaking during a ceremony to inaugurate a new pagoda building in Prey Veng province, Mr. Hun Sen said the government was “concerned” about the drought, but that he was convinced that upstream Mekong dams had nothing to do with the problem.
“Last year, unfortunately, rain avoided the Mekong River basin; it did not just avoid Cambodia,” he said. “The issue of big water or small water—the issue of having water or not having water—it does not just involve the hydroelectric dam at Xayaburi nor the Don Sahong.”
“Don’t blame Laos [and say] that it was caused by Laos building the Don Sahong hydroelectric dam—it hasn’t been built yet—or caused by the Xayaburi hydropower dam, which has just been built a little bit and is 1,200 kilometers from Cambodia,” he continued.
Rather than dams, the premier said, the culprit was simply the capricious climate.
“The issue of having water or not having water depends on the sky; the sky brings rain where they don’t need it until people die,” he said.
The Vietnamese government last week blamed upstream Mekong dams such as the Xayaburi and Don Sahong, along with this year’s particularly strong El Nino, for catastrophic droughts and “saltwater intrusion” there, the Associated Press reported.
Saltwater intrusion—the movement of saltwater into freshwater bodies—is affecting large swathes of land in the Mekong Delta due to low water levels in the river. Mr. Hun Sen said that the current saltwater intrusion in Vietnam was unprecedented, and that it could become a concern for Cambodia.
“I am very concerned; it has already crossed 100 km from the sea, and if the water drops a little bit, seawater will rise up into Neak Loeung, and that would be a disaster related to global climate change,” he said.