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Cambodian Native Groups Fight Loss of Land to Dam Project

2017-09-09

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[00:00.00]
  • Cambodian groups are asking the government to stop the controlled flooding of their villages as a hydroelectric dam goes into operation.
  • [00:12.47]
  • The floodgates of the Lower Se San 2 hydropower dam are being closed and water levels are rising in Stung Treng province.
  • [00:25.36]
  • In time, many villages will be under water.
  • [00:30.19]
  • The villages are in eastern Cambodia near a river that flows into the Mekong, one of Southeast Asia’s longest rivers.
  • [00:42.66]
  • Government officials have urged people living in the area to move to new homes set up for them.
  • [00:52.77]
  • Many people have already accepted compensation plans.
  • [00:57.91]
  • But, about 143 families remain.
  • [01:02.80]
  • They say they stay where they have lived for generations.
  • [01:09.05]
  • They also argue they want to remain near the burial places of their ancestors.
  • [01:17.83]
  • The villagers have called on Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Ministry of the Interior to help them.
  • [01:26.98]
  • A group from the village of Kbal Romeas and an ethnic minority recently met with an official of Cambodia’s interior ministry in Phnom Penh.
  • [01:41.35]
  • The group said they did not want to leave their homes.
  • [01:46.40]
  • Instead, they wanted the government to give them official recognition of their ownership of the land.
  • [01:55.42]
  • Some people have willingly moved.
  • [01:59.65]
  • Sah Ponh took a compensation offer and left Stung Treng province.
  • [02:06.19]
  • “If we do something wrong, we pray in accordance with our traditions,” he said.
  • [02:13.09]
  • “And we pray so that we can be recovered.”
  • [02:16.81]
  • He used to be a fisherman. But many people in the area say fish catches have decreased on the river.
  • [02:26.76]
  • So, Sah Ponh has built a new business selling household goods.
  • [02:33.84]
  • He said he is doing well.
  • [02:36.90]
  • “Before I could not transport any goods. Now I can. The truck can get into our home to transport goods. Whatever I need, they can reach my home.”
  • [02:51.71]
  • But not everyone from the flooding villages is happy about having to move.
  • [02:58.73]
  • Sah Ponh’s brother says the government wants to move them to poor quality land.
  • [03:06.55]
  • “I really don’t want to live there. The situation is difficult, there’s not enough water. It’s mountain land and it’s rock and sandy and very difficult to do agriculture,” he said.
  • [03:22.57]
  • Yun Lorang is a secretary-coordinator for the Cambodian Indigenous People’s Alliance.
  • [03:31.55]
  • He is one of several activists who has been calling on native, or indigenous, people to reject compensation and fight relocation efforts.
  • [03:44.91]
  • He said relocation will result in the death of native ways of life and their connection with the land.
  • [03:56.51]
  • The dam is estimated to have cost more than $800 million.
  • [04:02.28]
  • It is to be Cambodia’s biggest dam producing 400 megawatts of electricity.
  • [04:10.94]
  • However, the dam will flood 335 square kilometers and with it the way of life of many native people.
  • [04:22.09]
  • Environmentalists argue that the dam will affect the local fishing industry.
  • [04:29.70]
  • A report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2012 warns of a drop in fish stocks.
  • [04:41.19]
  • It says the Mekong River will lose more than nine percent of its fisheries because of the Lower Se San 2 dam.
  • [04:53.27]
  • An environmental study sought by the developer of the dam and approved by Cambodia’s government also found problems.
  • [05:05.28]
  • In 2010, it said that fish populations would be severely hurt because the dam would block migratory species of fish.
  • [05:17.40]
  • A debate continues over whether the economic gains and electricity produced by the dam will be greater than the loss of fish and water.
  • [05:30.41]
  • The Ministry of Mines and Energy has not answered requests for comments about the project.
  • [05:39.84]
  • Cambodia’s energy needs are increasing quickly.
  • [05:46.23]
  • The dam is supposed to provide electricity for five Cambodian provinces.
  • [05:53.52]
  • The project is a joint effort by Cambodian, Chinese and Vietnamese companies.
  • [06:03.12]
  • I’m Mario Ritter.
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