A massive Chinese-funded dam in Cambodia has “washed away the livelihood” of tens of thousands of villagers while not promising energy production, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.
The 400 megawatt lower Sesan II dam in the north-east of the kingdom has caused controversy since long before its launch in December 2018. Fisheries experts had warned to stem the confluence of the Sesan and Srepok rivers – two major tributaries to the resource-rich Mekong River – that would threaten fish stocks for millions living along the plains of the Mekong River.
Tens of thousands of villagers living upstream and downstream have suffered heavy losses for their incomes, HRW said in Tuesday’s report, citing interviews conducted over two years with some 60 people from various communities.
“The Lower Sesan II dam washed away the livelihoods of indigenous and ethnic minority communities that previously lived municipally and mostly self-sufficiently from fishing, forestry and agriculture,” John Sifton, HRW’s Asia advocate and author of the report, said on Tuesday.
“Cambodian authorities must immediately review the project’s compensation, resettlement and livelihood methods.”
“There is no doubt at all that (the dam) contributed significantly to the major problems that the Mekong is facing right now,” said Mekong energy and water expert Brian Eyler, adding that more research was needed on the exact losses.
The government had moved forward with the project – which involved the resettlement of about 5,000 people – in the hope of producing about one-sixth of Cambodia’s annual electricity needs promised by builder China Huaneng Group. But production levels are “probably much lower and amount to only a third of these levels,” the report said.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan defended the dam, saying it had “the most positive effects” and that the resettled villagers have new homes, farmland and electricity. “The claims are not reasonable, they do not look at Cambodian experiences … and the new place is better than the old place,” said Phay Siphan, adding that the government would continue to monitor the effects on surrounding villages.
The dam, which cost $ 780 million to build, is part of China’s Belt and Road initiative, a huge $ 1 trillion infrastructure vision for maritime, rail and road projects in Asia, Africa and Europe.
The system, a symbol of Beijing’s efforts to expand its economic influence around the world, has been widely criticized for saddling small countries with unmanageable debt.