Villagers complain about dam deal

Source: Khmer Times

Community members said many generations had relied on the Sesam River. Some are refusing to relocate. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Several families affected by the construction of the Lower Sesan II dam yesterday renewed their calls for the government to demarcate boundaries so they can stay on their “ancestral land,” while others who chose to relocate painted a grim picture of squalid conditions in their new homes.
During a dialogue session titled “Confrontation Resolution over Lower Sesan II Hydropower Dam” in Phnom Penh yesterday, several community members spoke fondly of the many generations who have lived  along and relied on the Sesan River in Stung Treng province.
One such person was Nat Sota who, like the other 180 families from 140 homes in Sesan district’s Sre Kor and Kbal Romeas villages, has refused to relocate to make way for construction.
Ms. Sota pointed out that she was not opposed to the dam project, but merely objected to having to give up her land as well as accessibility to the river, which she heavily depended on as a food source.
“I would rather die there and I won’t go anywhere because I can’t leave my ancestral land and the river and my farming land,” she said.
“As we’ve already heard, at the new village we have to buy vegetables, water and meat. I am a widow, so how can I survive with my children?”
Another villager, Thong Saman, was one of the few who chose to relocate to the new village and has regretted the decision ever since.
He said that before, he could easily survive on the crops in the village or from fishing in the river.
However at the new village, he said their livelihoods had deteriorated with the poorly-constructed infrastructure, roads damaged by timber trucks and nothing more than a small canal nearby which floods the village every time it rains.
He added that without the river nearby, many villagers were left jobless and without access to clean water.
He urged the government and the company constructing the dam to help support the villagers’ livelihoods and to set up better infrastructure in the new village.
Mines and Energy Minister Nong Sareth, who was present at the forum, pointed out that many families had in fact opted to move to the new village, but provided little recourse to the long list of complaints villagers raised.
“Those who refuse to leave repeatedly claimed that without having any other reason. They will not leave…due to their ancestral land.
“However, 87 percent of people have accepted the option to leave,” he said, adding that 720 of the 846 families affected have already relocated.
While acknowledging the many difficulties faced by those who relocated, he said the government and the company will visit the site and check their living conditions.
He Jun Hui, a representative from Hydrolancang International Energy, the Chinese company building the dam, declined to comment, saying he was only there to listen to the villagers.
The ministry approved the construction of the dam in 2012 and said, in its solution policy, that the dam will affect the residents of five districts along the Sesan River.
Through the solution policy, the government stated that each family was entitled to an 80 square meter house, a 1,000 square meter plot of land, five hectares of farming land as well as various amenities in the new village including schools, health centers, a commune hall, a police station, pagodas and roads.
The plan also said that residents of the new villages would be provided with electricity and an irrigation system.
According to the provincial governor last October, the Lower Sesan II dam is expected to begin generating electricity by the end of this year and will be able to generate up to 400 megawatts, making it the biggest hydropower dam in the country.
Construction of the 75-meter-high dam started in 2015 with a total cost estimated at $816 million. China’s Lancang Hydropower International Energy has a 51 percent stake in the project, Cambodia’s Royal Group owns 39 percent and Vietnam’s EVN International owns 10 percent.
Cambodia now has six operating dams that generate about 61 percent of its electricity. The rest is generated from biomass and coal-fired plants and electricity is imported from Vietnam and Thailand.
According to reports, 80 percent of the Lower Sesan II dam was completed last year. The first turbine is expected to begin running this October, while a total of eight turbines will be fully operational by the end of 2018.

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