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Rough Waters of Lower Sesan II Dam

Ngoc Thuy

According to the Vietnam River Network, Lower Sesan II dam in Cambodia will impact both environmental and social aspects. Impacts will be felt not only around the project site but also from the upstream Sesan River to downstream at the Sekong River, Tonle Sap, Vietnam Mekong Delta region and also some parts of Laos and Thailand. However the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for this project only refers to some affects around the dam. And the transboundary impacts were not mentioned in EIA report.

As Dr Dao Trong Tu, Director of CEWAREC, Vietnam, the biggest impacts of Lower Sesan II dam is the changing of the natural water flows as the dam holds large amounts of water. The dam will also cause declines of 6% – 8% of the sediments flowing to the downstream of the Mekong River. That will also impact the agriculture and fishing sectors of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.

The construction of Lower Sesan II dam will have overall impacts on livelihoods, health, and culture of the local people, as well as be accompanied by many other implications, as noted by Dr Try Thuon, Development and Natural Management faculty, Royal Phnom Penh University. Research in 2013 from Royal Phnom Penh University, conducted in 3 provinces of Cambodia including Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri, and Stung Treng, found that disease has been increasing as the dam has been constructed. The number of sick people increased from 324 people (before dam construction) to 1023 people (after dam construction), the culture of locals also changed, with a loss of connection among community members. The time and resources required to adapt to new ways of life increased tenfold, according to the study.  Research also indicated that the people living in these areas have low education. More than 52% do not attend school, 33.2% finished elementary school, junior high school was 9.8%, and only 4.5% graduated from high school.



“They will soon adapt it. I believe so,” said Nou Damrar Sovann, director of the Department of Mining & Energy Stung Treng Province. Photo: Ngoc Thuy.


For the construction of Lower Sesan II dam, it is estimated that around 5000 people from five villages need to move out. So far only two villages agreed to move and three villages were still considering. There are two options for compensation. People could get 6000 USD or get a new house and land for planting rubber trees. Those are the good options for the new livelihood according to Mr Nou Sovann Damrara, Director of Mining and Energy Department of Stung Treng province, who is also a member of the Compensation Committee of Lower Sesan II Dam.

Mr Nou Sovann Damrara thinks that “6000 USD for compensation is reasonable and local people will quickly adapt with their new life.” He said for the construction Lower Sesan II dam, only small trees in the forests have been cut and that has not been a problem.



Mr. Local activist discusses possible impacts of Lower Sesan II hydropower dam on the Mekong fish and shrimp, Photo: Ngoc Thuy.


Similarly, Mr Dung SamKeat, Cambodia Ministry of Environment, said that the benefits of Lower Sesan II will be much more than the negative impacts. However, when the question on the adaptation possibility of local people, especially for marginalised people, the leader of Cambodia Ministry of Environment kept silent for a full minute, thinking and finally answering, “we don’t know, but we think it will be fine.”

One Cambodia NGO thinks that before start constructing Lower Sesan II dam, the government should build the resettlement area first. Although many local people did not yet agree to move, the construction is still continuing.

Mr Hieng Kui from the village Sear Sronuk, Sesan district of Stung Treng province, said if he does not agree to move and does not receive the compensation, then when water will come. He will have lost all and have to move with nothing. The resettlement is 20 km from the old place and he is not yet familiar with the new place. At the old living area, he could get income from cattle of about 250 USD /month, he could go fishing or go to the forest to collect mushrooms. But in the resettlement, he does not yet know how to get income.

Local people living downstream of Lower Sesan II complained that they are suffering from skin disease abnormalities with many large black spots appearing on their bodies. The people have also been severely itcy. The cause of the disease is thought by locals to be due to dam construction companies, as they discharge waste water into the river where they shower. However, Royal Group, a major shareholder of in Sesan Hydropower II, denied this allegation.

So the question is what will happen to the life of local residents and residents in downstream Mekong River when Lower Sesan II dam may already be decided.


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. 

Read the full story in Vietnamese on VFEJ‘s website.

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