[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.