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Harnessing Sesan River (Part 1): the choice between fish or electricity

“I can’t say whether fish and electricity can substitute each other…” so said Sana, a 25-year old fisherman of the Sesan river in Stung Treng province of Cambodia when asked by a Thai PBS reporter about the lower Sesan Dam II.

By Thai PBS

Stung Treng, Cambodia, June 1, 2016

Thai PBS

Sesan Dam II is one of a series of dams planned by the Cambodian government for Samse basin in northeast Cambodia. There are three rivers in Samse basin, including Sekong, Srepok and Sesan.

Sesan Dam II is the first on the Sesan river, a tributary of the mighty Mekong river. The hydroelectric dam, when completed, will have the capacity to generate 400 megawatt of electricity. The dam site is located at a point where the Sesan and Seprok rivers meet which is about 25 kilometres from the Mekong river.

Construction of Sesan Dam II is already 50 per cent completed and the dam will start storing water next year.

Mekong river is not the only river in this region which is experiencing changes for worse because of the construction of a series of dam in China to harness the river. Its tributaries in Laos and Cambodia are also dammed for the sake of development and the impacts of the dams are now being felt by the peoples in Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.

Thai PBS recently dispatched a news team to Cambodia to find out the impacts of the Sesan Dam II on the environment and people in the Samse river basin. It was discovered that the impacts caused to the people and environment from the Sesan Dam II are similar to those in other river basins.

The Thai PBS news team took a bus trip from Phnom Penh to Stung Treng and then a boat trip along the Sesan river to Plook village where there are about 200 households 11 of which have already moved out to elsewhere because they are too close to the dam site.

25-year old Sana who makes a living from farming and fishing said that, before the dam construction, the fishermen, himself included, caught at least five kilometers of fish from the Sesan river each day which was more than enough for consumption with the surplus being sold.

But two years after the construction, Sanan admitted that his daily catch has dropped and the fish he caught are smaller. He said that some days he could not catch any fish at all but he was not sure that it was because of the dam.

Sana also disclosed that normally fishermen would catch the giant catfish (Pla Boek) in the sixth lunar month but, last year, not a single Pla Boek was caught. He said that he had changed his fishing gear to catch smaller fish because there are less big fish these days.

Sana and most of the people in his village knew little about the dam. He said that they were summoned to a meeting by a village headman who simply told them that, once the dam was completed, each household would be eligible to use electricity for free for three years.

One villager said that he would be happy if there is electricity in his house because he would like to get a television set.

An environment activist, Meas Myan, pointed out that Samse river basin is the breeding ground of fish migrated from the Mekong river and Tonle Sap as well as the local fish species.

He said that the Sesan Dam II will definitely ruin the ecology of the river and fish species. He claimed that there are about 200 fish species in Sesan river and about 300 species in Srepok river and these will be affected by the dam.

From the Plook village, the Thai PBS news team continued its journey eastward toward Serekor village and the Cambodian-Vietnamese border to meet with the local people and to investigate the impacts from dam construction.

This story was produced in collaboration with The Mekong Eye and Mekong Matters Journalism Network, with full editorial control to the journalist and their outlet.

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