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Flood of concern for new dam

June 14, 2011 Leave a comment
Photo by: Adam Miller
Stung Treng province – KbalL Romea
village sits in an isolated corner of the eponymous district in Stung
Treng province, on the banks of the Sesan River. Livestock roams freely
in the community, while local villagers mill about among the wooden
homes along the river bank.

Residents of Kbal Romea say their way of life has not changed for decades.

But
all that may be about to change with the construction of a huge
hydropower dam that could have dramatic affects on Kbal Romea and other
villages throughout northeastern Cambodia.

District authorities
told Kbal Romea resident Na Ram last month that she and her seven
children would have to leave the only home they have ever known to make
way for the construction of the Lower Sesan 2 dam project at the end of
this year.

Na Ram is just one of thous-ands of indigenous people
in northeastern Cambodia facing eviction, relocation and an uncertain
future as a result of the construction of the dam.

The
39-year-old ethnic Phanong villager struggles with the fact that the
community she has lived in since 1973 will soon be flooded and be
nothing but a memory.

The families at risk here live in one of the most culturally diverse areas of the country.

The
indigenous communities within Stung Treng comprise ethnic minority
groups including the Phanong, Jarai, Kroeung, Tompoun, Prov, Kanch Chak
and Lao.

One hundred and twenty two  families live in Kbal
Romea, just below the confluence with the Srepok River in Stung Treng’s
Sesan district. It’s  a place where residents rely on the river for
tasks ranging from bathing to the irrigation of crops and the collection
of drinking water.

Most importantly, the river provides a
steady supply of fish to villagers in the area, giving them a vital
source of nutrients in a region in which food secur-ity is precarious.

The
village is just a few hundred metres from the proposed site of the
US$816 million, 75-metre high, 420-megawatt Lower Sesan II hydropower
dam which, according to a 2009 environmental impact assessment, will
cause at least 38,000 people in 86 villages located along two of the
largest rivers in the Mekong basin to lose access to the vast majority
of their fishing resources.

An additional 87 villages on
tributaries of these two rivers in Ratanakkiri, Kratie and Stung Treng
provinces may also lose access to migratory fish, according to the EIA.

The
Cambodia-Vietnam Hydropower Company – a joint venture 51 per cent owned
by the EVNI Joint Stock Company of Vietnam and 49 per cent owned by
local conglomerate Royal Group – is due to begin work on the dam later
this year.

Ame Trandem, Mekong campaigner for the conservation
organisation International Rivers, said EVNI had demonstrated a lack of
concern for the welfare of indigenous communities affected by similar
dams.

“EVNI has a long legacy of irresponsible and destructive dam-building in the 3S [Sesan, Srepok and Sekong rivers] basin.

“The
cascade of dams they have built on the Sesan and Srepok rivers in
Vietnam has caused large-scale harm to communities living downstream of
its dams in Cambodia,” she said.

The 720MW Yali Falls dam in
Vietnam, built by EVNI 80 kilometres upstream of the Cambodian border in
1998, is a similar project suspected of having caused a wide range of
environmental problems in the region, Trandem says.

“Water
quality has deterior-ated greatly in the Sesan and Srepok rivers over
the past decade. The symptoms are mainly gastric disorders and skin
eruptions, but respiratory problems have also been reported, along with
deaths of villagers and their livestock due to poor water quality,” she
says.

Trandern adds that a water- quality testing project in
2009  discovered toxic blue-green algae and E. Coli in the water, which
was linked to the dams upstream in Vietnam.

Now, experts fear, history may be set to repeat itself with the construction of the Lower Sesan 2.

“Tens
of thousands of Cambodians have suffered the environmental, social and
econ-omic impacts of its dams for more than a decade,” Trandern  says. 
“These people have yet to receive compensation or a remedy for the
impacts.

“EVNI is now repeating its legacy of harm with the Lower Sesan 2 Dam.”

Key
Consultants Cambodia (KCC) conducted the EIA for the Lower Sesan 2 dam
project in September, 2009, concluding that the dam was likely to flood
seven villages in four communes in Stung Treng alone, where at least
4,500 people would have to be resettled.

KCC also stated that at
least 78,000 people living upstream of the Lower Sesan 2 dam site were
expected to lose access to migratory fish and 1,290 hectares –  about 25
per cent of the agricultural land in the Sesan district – would be
lost.

KCC executive manager Taing Sophanara raised concerns over the potential impact of the dam at an NGO meeting in 2008.

“Based purely on environmental and particularly social conditions, the project is very questionable,” he said.

Despite
concerns by environmentalists and local residents, Environment Minister
Mok Mareth said earlier this month the government had extensively
researched the impact of the Lower Sesan 2 dam.

Villagers opposed
to the project simply could not see the potential benefits of the
government’s ongoing development policy, he said.

“The government will relocate villagers who live near the Lower Sesan 2 dam to a new place,” he added.

Choeum
Kea, the chief of Kbal Romea village, said villagers would be relocated
in December and would receive accommodation comparable with their
present housing.

Yet uncertainty over compensation packages has surfaced.

NGO
Forum executive director Chhith Sam Ath revealed last month that the
Ministry of Economy and Finance was no longer responsible for
compensating villagers. That task has  fallen to the state power company
Electricite du Cambodge.

“It’s confusing. We tried to seek
participation in compensation packages from the ministries of
Environment and Economy and Finance, then we got a message that the
Ministry of Economy and Finance was not responsible,” he said last week,
adding that the EDC had not updated him on the situation. EDC officials
could not be reached for comment.

Royal Group chairman Kith
Meng declined to comment on the project, although in a statement
released in April, he said it “will contribute greatly to the continued
economic development of Cambodia, ensuring a reliable, moderately priced
supply of electricity”.

Yet allegations have also emerged that
the Cambodian government plans to sell off the majority of the
electricity generated by the Lower Sesan 2 dam – an act that contradicts
the potential benefits touted by the project’s organisers.

“This
is not about electricity for Cambodia. It is not about reducing the
cost of electricity in Cambodia,” Dr Ian Baird, a fisheries expert and
geography professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said.
“Maybe
a very small amount of electricity they might use around Stung Treng,
but it would be less than one per cent,” Baird said.

He said the
province could likely be powered by just 1MW of energy and Cambodia’s 
lack of a power grid would prevent electricity from the project being
distributed nationwide until a grid had been built.

Amid concerns
locally about the effect of the dam and its questionable benefit for
Cambodia, Arne Trandem says the effects of the dam will also be felt in
the neighbouring countries of Vietnam and Laos.

The project, she
says, may stifle agricultural development in the region, because the
Sesan, Srepok and Sekong rivers supply about 10 per cent of the Mekong
River’s sediment.

“The dam will … hinder sediment flow, which
carries nutrients responsible for the Mekong’s rich fish productivity
and works as an important natural fertiliser for Cambodia’s flood plains
and Vietnam’s Mekong Delta,” Trandem says.

Sai Bun Pom, a
community representative for the Kbal Romea commune, said villagers in
the area would find it difficult to imagine life after the dam’s
construction.

“We will face a shortage of food, and our standard of living will be poor,” he said.

“We
would rather live in the village and watch it flood until we die, than
move out of the village. The river is our life – we cannot move away
from the river.”

Phnom Penh Post
Categories: Local News, Mekong River

Mekong giant catfish approved as all-tackle world record

June 14, 2011 Leave a comment
Martin David Kent required only an hour to land a 260-pound Mekong giant catfish late last November, but it took seven months for the impressive catch, made in Thailand, to be approved as a world record.  

The International Game Fish Assn., after an unusually long authentication period, recognized the catch last week in its all-tackle category. That means it’s the biggest of the species in the record book (the IGFA also lists line-class records).  Asked what took so long, IGFA worldf records coordinator Jack Vitek explained: “For international claims there is a 90-day minimum wait period, from the catch date. 

In this particular case, we required written testimonies from the angler and witnesses – which took some time.”   Welsh angler Kent, 54, did not require approval, of course, to realize he had landed a true behemoth. Surprisingly, Kent hooked the whopper on a mere piece of sweet corn. 

After being weighed and photographed, the fish was released to fight another day.  “I usually catch bass weighing four or five pounds off the Pembrokeshire coast so this [fish] was a bit bigger than I’m used to,” Kent told WalesOnline.  He had been fishing at Gillhams Fishing Resorts in Krabi, Thailand. 

The catch shatters the previous all-tackle record, a 191-pound specimen caught at the same location in 2009, by Joseph Stewart Ball.   Mekong giant catfish are endemic to the Mekong River and the wild population is critically endangered because of overfishing and degradation of habitat (dams, runoff, etc.). River fishing for the giants is banned in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, but poaching is widespread.  

Thailand allows fishing in lakes in which fry or small catfish have been stocked via government or private hatchery programs. This has no impact on the wild fishery.   Gillhams Fishing Resorts utilizes a nine-acre lake and plants two species of catfish purchased from a Thailand fish farm. 

The fish apparently grow to remarkable sizes within the expanse of the reservoir.  “This is a lake I created from a swamp, and due to the habitat I built into the lake the fish certainly do grow here,” said Stuart Gillham, the owner. “I have had Mekongs put on 100 pounds in 13 months and arapaima, which I breed myself, with the same weight gains.”  

 The largest known giant Mekong catfish was a 646-pounder netted from the Mekong River in 2005 by local fishermen. It’s believed to be the largest freshwater fish ever recorded. It didn’t qualify as an angling record, naturally, because of the manner by which it was caught.  

— Photo shows Martin David Kent (left) and companions he enlisted to help display the 260-pound giant Mekong catfish. Courtesy of Gillhams Fishing Resorts

Categories: Local News, Mekong River

World’s largest fish under threat of extinction

May 25, 2011 Leave a comment

The survival of some of the world’s largest freshwater fish — including a
giant catfish — is threatened by a series of hydro-power dams planned for
the Mekong River, a leading environmental group has warned. 

The construction of a particular dam in northern Laos would disrupt the
migration of four of the world’s top ten largest freshwater species to
crucial spawning grounds, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said.

In its report River Giants: Giant Fish of the Mekong, WWF said the catfish
that grow up to 350kgs (772lbs) and freshwater stringray that can weigh in
at 600kgs (1,320lbs), would be threatened with extinction if the plans
go-ahead.

China has already completed four hydro-power dams on the Mekong, while another
11 are being built or planned in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. Other smaller
dams are proposed along its tributaries.

The Mekong is south-east Asia’s longest river, rising in Tibet and flowing
through southern China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam before
reaching the South China Sea.

But WWF’s most pressing concern in the hydropower plant planned for Sayabouly
province, in Laos, which boasts ambitious plans to supply electricity to
south-east Asia in an effort to become the “battery” of the region.

The elusive giant catfish swims from Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake up the Mekong
to breed in Laos and northern Thailand.

“A fish the size of a Mekong giant catfish simply will not be able to swim
across a large barrier like a dam to reach its spawning grounds upstream,”
said Roger Mollot, a freshwater biologist for WWF in Laos.

Yet the river plays also host to a many unique fish including the vast
stingray — the world’s biggest freshwater fish — a giant barb and dog-eating
catfish, so-called because of its pension for dog carcasses.

“More giant fish live in the Mekong than any other river on earth,” said Dang
Thuy Trang, co-ordinator for WWF’s Greater Mekong Programme.

“Currently, the lower Mekong remains free-flowing, which presents a rare
opportunity for the conservation of these species, but the clock is ticking.”

The plans for the new dam are currently under scrutiny by the Mekong River
Commission — an international body made up of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and
Vietnam. But WWF is urging it to veto the plan on the grounds of its effects
on the wildlife, fishing and agriculture in the region.

The Telegraph
Categories: Local News, Mekong River

Laos Plans New Study on Dam Effects

May 11, 2011 Leave a comment
A Cambodian fisherman holds a bag loaded with fish from the Mekong River on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia (FILE).
Laos says it will conduct new research on the environmental effects
of a hydropower dam it wants to build on the lower Mekong River, bowing
to requests from neighboring nations for more study on the project.

Daovong
Phonekeo, the deputy director general of the country’s Department of
Electricity, said Tuesday the country will hire advisers to do the
study, and will ask a Thai construction company that is playing a
leading role in the project to fund the study.

He says construction work on the project will be delayed for the study.

The
Xayaburi dam will be the first hydropower dam on the lower reaches of
the river, although China has built dams on the upper stretches of the
river.

Last month, at the Mekong River Commission, Vietnam,
Cambodia and Thailand, which the Mekong also flows through, asked for
more information on the dam’s possible effects on wildlife, fish stocks
and farming along the river.

Vietnam has asked that all planned hydropower dams on the river be
delayed for 10 years for further study. The commission, which aims to
build a regional consensus for sustainable development of the river,
does not have the power to block any dam projects.

Laos plans to
build a series of dams on the river to generate electricity, which it
can sell to other countries. Thailand earlier had agreed to buy 95
percent of the power from the project.

About 60 million people depend on the Mekong directly or indirectly for their livelihoods. Environmental groups, including the WWF,
have expressed concern that dams on the Mekong could endanger rare fish
and wildlife, and could damage farms along the 4,800-kilometer river.

The WWF on Tuesday urged that international best practices be used in any studies to evaluate the dam’s effects.

Source: VOA News
Categories: Local News, Mekong River

US welcomes delay in controversial Mekong dam

April 27, 2011 Leave a comment
WASHINGTON — The United States on Tuesday welcomed a delay in
construction of a controversial dam on the Mekong River, voicing hope
that Southeast Asian nations would work to ensure it is environmentally
sound.
A Cambodian family rows a boat along the Mekong river in Phnom Penh on April 19
Cash-strapped Laos wants to go ahead with the $3.8 billion
Xayaburi dam which would generate hydropower for export, but a meeting
last week with officials from Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam put off a
decision.
The neighboring countries asked Laos for further study
of the dam amid warnings by environmentalists that it would seriously
impact fish, trigger algae growth and disrupt the lives of millions who
rely on the river.
“The United States welcomes the recognition by
riparian states of the need to consider fully the potential economic,
environmental and social impacts of hydropower development,” the US
State Department said in a statement.
“We encourage the countries
to continue to work together to realize their shared vision of an
economically prosperous, socially just and environmentally sound Mekong
River basin,” it said.
Senator Jim Webb, who heads the Senate
Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia, has pressed for an active
US role against construction of the dam which he argued would have
“devastating” consequences for the region.
Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton in 2009 launched a Lower Mekong initiative as part of a
drive to re-engage Southeast Asia, which the US administration charged
was overlooked during President George W. Bush’s tenure.
President
Barack Obama’s administration has worked with the four countries to
chart out the effects of climate change and last year offered nearly
$150 million to public health efforts including AIDS treatment.
Source: AFP
Categories: Local News, Mekong River

Laos, Neighbors Face Off on Mekong River Dam Dispute

April 20, 2011 Leave a comment
A Cambodian fisherman who lives by the Mekong River casts his net
outside Phnom Penh, April 19, 2011. Plans for the first dam across the
lower Mekong River are putting Laos on a collision course with its
neighbors and environmentalists who fear livelihoods, fish species and
farmland could be destroyed, potentially sparking a food crisis.Photo: Reuters
Countries along the Mekong River have disagreed with Laos on its
proposal to build the first hydropower dam on the main stream of the
lower river. Laos says the dam will cause no serious problems, while
its neighbors say more information is needed about its environmental
and economic effects.

http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/player/jw/player.swf

Delegates from Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam postponed
a decision Tuesday on Laos’s plan to build a hydropower dam on the
lower Mekong.

At a meeting of the Mekong River Commission in
the Lao capital, Vientiane, Laos insisted the Xayaburi dam go ahead,
saying it will be up to international standards.

The Lao delegate said the dam likely would not affect the environment of its neighbors.

However,
Te Navuth, chairman of the MRC’s Joint Committee, said Cambodia,
Thailand, and Vietnam have doubts. “The three countries want additional
information while Laos… Laos wishes to have the process completed
after six months.”

Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam want a comprehensive assessment of cross-boundary environmental effects.

The
four countries agreed to hold a ministerial-level meeting later this
year to come to an agreement. Under the commission, the four neighbors
consult each other on projects along the river, but do not need each
other’s permission

Vietnam was the most critical of the
project and proposed that all plans for dams on the Mekong’s main
stream be put on hold for at least 10 years.

Cambodia and
Vietnam are concerned the dam, one of 11 planned for the Mekong, could
affect fish stocks and rice production. One commission study concluded
the dam would affect fish migration and could drive endangered species,
like the Mekong giant catfish, to extinction.

Thailand raised concerns about the sustainability of the $3.5 billion project.

It is expected to produce 1,260 megawatts of electricity, 95 percent of which would be sold to Thailand.

A
commission report said the dam could lose up to 60 percent of its
operating capacity in 30 years, though, because of sediment building up
in the reservoir.

About 60 million people depend on the Mekong for their livelihoods.

Laos, an impoverished and land-locked state ruled by a communist party, says the dam is necessary to raise revenue.

The only dams built on the Mekong’s main channel so far are up stream in China, where it is known as the Lancang river.

Beijing built four dams without consulting neighbors, and plans to build four more in the coming decade.

The deadlock follows reports this week that Laos started road construction last year for the project.

Te Navuth said the commission has asked for clarification from Laos.

Source: VOA News
Categories: Local News, Mekong River

Decision looms on dam for Mekong

April 19, 2011 Leave a comment

It might be a case of dammed if
they do, dammed if they don’t, writes Thomas Fuller from Houay Souy,
Laos.

Dammed if they do … a fisherman casts a net on the Mekong River. Photo: Reuters
THE
Mekong River is so brown with silt as it passes this impoverished
village, it could be called liquid dirt. For millions of people
downstream, this is the colour of life; the Mekong, teeming with
hundreds of species of fish and rich in minerals, has for centuries
been the lifeline of villages and towns stretching from the rocky
rapids of Tibet to the river’s lazy meanderings in the Vietnam delta.
Today,
the four countries that share the lower reaches of the Mekong River
will announce whether they agree to the construction of a controversial
dam that could forever alter the character and natural diversity of one
of the world’s longest and most bountiful rivers.
The
proposed dam, known as the Xayaburi for the province in Laos where it
is located, is a test case for a 1995 agreement signed by Laos,
Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam to share the river’s resources – its
fish, water and the minerals carried by the silt that fertilises the
soils of places such as the Mekong Delta. The agreement, which called
for a process of consultation on actions affecting the river, was seen
as a major step towards greater co-operation for countries that were
often at odds during the Vietnam War.

But Laos appears to be undermining the spirit of that co-operation.
All four countries retained the right to build dams with or without
agreement by neighbouring countries. And here at the proposed site of
the Xayaburi dam, work has been under way since November.

A
report published by the head office of the Mekong River Commission, set
up to co-ordinate dam projects, describes ”fundamental gaps in
knowledge” about how migratory fish would be affected by the dam and
estimates the dam’s ability to produce electricity will be severely
compromised within a few decades because its reservoir will fill with
silt.

Thus, critics say, the dam will have
permanent consequences for life in the river, including possible
extinction of larger species, but may only produce several decades of
electricity.

The Laotian government has defended
the project, saying the dam, which would take seven years to build,
will have the same impact as a ”natural waterfall”.

NEW YORK TIMES

Categories: Local News, Mekong River