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‘I Will Lose My Identity’: Cambodian Villagers Face Displacement By Mekong Dam

Villagers plant rice in Srekor village. Most residents of a encampment — that will be submerged when a new dam starts adult — have been relocated.

Michael Sullivan for NPR


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Michael Sullivan for NPR

Villagers plant rice in Srekor village. Most residents of a encampment — that will be submerged when a new dam starts adult — have been relocated.

Michael Sullivan for NPR

Cambodia needs energy. Almost half of this Southeast Asian nation is though electricity. Work will shortly be finished on a country’s largest hydropower plan to date, a Sesan 2 dam, on a Sesan River, a run of a Mekong River circuitously a limit with Laos.

The dam is an $800 million corner Chinese-Cambodian try from a association called Hydro Power Lower Sesan 2 Co. Ltd. When it’s finished, dual circuitously villages, Srekor and Kbal Romeas, will be underwater.

Most of Srekor’s residents — about 400 families — have already been resettled in a new encampment about an hour’s expostulate down a road.

Fisherman Fout Kaeun isn’t one of them.

“You see that we live subsequent to a river,” he says — a stream that provides roughly everything. “We can locate fish to eat, it provides H2O to splash and a land alongside is good for flourishing crops.”

He says there’s no approach he’s going to a new village.

“There’s no stream there,” he says. The soil’s no good, either, he says: “You can’t grow anything, so how will we survive? How will my family survive?”

Kaeun doesn’t trust Srekor encampment will be wholly submerged by a dam. But if it happens, he says, “We only make it a floating village, a traveller attraction” — like a one on a Tonle Sap lake, circuitously a temples of Angkor Wat.

If a villages do that, he says, they can also strengthen a timberland nearby. And everyone, he says, can make money.

A lot of people are already creation income from slicing down Cambodia’s forests to sell a oppulance hardwood abroad. Some inland villagers here contend a new dam is assisting dive their forests’ destruction.

Freshly cut joist is ecstatic opposite a Sesan River toward a dam construction site. Villagers explain illegally harvested hardwood is being laundered during a dam construction site.

Michael Sullivan for NPR


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Michael Sullivan for NPR

Freshly cut joist is ecstatic opposite a Sesan River toward a dam construction site. Villagers explain illegally harvested hardwood is being laundered during a dam construction site.

Michael Sullivan for NPR

“Before, we used to cut some trees,” says Vann Oun, a 40-year-old resident. “But only for a houses, not to sell to Vietnam and to China.”

As we talk, a temporary packet on a corner of a encampment is stuffing adult with tiny tractors built high with creatively cut timber, watchful for a brief tour opposite a river, and from there, to a dam benefaction area.

The joist isn’t legally cut. Cambodia’s hydropower projects and mercantile benefaction areas have turn scandalous for laundering bootleg timber.

If a association needs to transparent joist from a site for construction — say, for a dam — that’s deliberate legally cut joist that can be sold. And if illegally cut joist can be funneled to those sites, and is claimed as being felled there, it’s deliberate authorised too, and prepared for export.

Oun says that’s been function given construction began scarcely 5 years ago on a Sesan 2 dam.

“The association says they were only clearing a reservoir, though that’s not true,” he says. “They’re carrying people move joist to a dam benefaction area from all over a province.”

The corner try in assign of dam construction denies these allegations, even as it and a supervision tie a screws on those still refusing to leave a dual villages upstream. In late July, they began stuffing a dam fountainhead for “operational testing.” And tools of Srekor finished adult knee-deep in water.

Nat Sota, 64, says it was meant to shock holdouts like her.

“They were only perplexing to exam us,” she says, “to see if we’d leave.”

The supervision has pulled a teachers from a encampment school, emptied a internal Buddhist church of monks — and infrequently blocks a highway to a encampment to keep inquisitive visitors away.

Sota says it’s not going to work. She’s from a inland encampment here, with a clever tie to a land.

New housing has been built for villagers who concluded to be resettled from Kbal Romeas. The new encampment is distant from a river, so they have to compensate for food and H2O now. Some protest they have not been compensated as they were promised.

Michael Sullivan for NPR


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Michael Sullivan for NPR

New housing has been built for villagers who concluded to be resettled from Kbal Romeas. The new encampment is distant from a river, so they have to compensate for food and H2O now. Some protest they have not been compensated as they were promised.

Michael Sullivan for NPR

“I can't leave my ancestors here,” she says. “I can’t desert their spirits. If we do that, we will remove my identity. If we desert them, we won’t know who we am.”

As for a resettlement villages, they are bleak. One of them, New Kbal Romeas, is on a categorical highway and simply accessible. It’s a collection of newly built houses. There’s electricity, though small else. It’s only as a folks behind in Srekor had likely — and feared.

“Here we have to buy a fish from a vendors, and we have to buy a H2O from them too,” says Im Chin, 22. “Before, we could get both from a river.”

She says her family can’t grow many on a land and it’s reduction than what they were promised. “I’m indignant with a company,” she says. “They betrothed adequate remuneration for us, though they didn’t yield what they promised.”

It’s not only a villagers of Srekor and Kbal Romeas whose lives are being upended by a new dam. There are millions of people critical downstream along a Mekong who count on a stream for their livelihoods. And a 3 stream systems that intersect only upstream of a Sesan 2 dam are partial of that ecosystem.

“Lower Sesan is one of a many impactful projects on tributaries, since it is, downstream, a largest run of a Mekong,” says Marc Goichot of a World Wildlife Fund’s Greater Mekong Program, “and one that is really critical for both lees government for a Mekong and even some-more importantly for fish migration.”

Messing with lees upsurge — a sand, silt, dirt or other solids rivers lift downstream — could impact rural prolongation downstream. Messing with fish emigration — a ability of fish to transport openly adult and downstream to parent — could meant fewer fish in a future.

Courtney Weatherby is a investigate researcher for a Southeast Asia module during a Stimson Center in Washington, D.C.

“Some experts have estimated that only a singular dam, a Lower Sesan 2, might impact 9 percent of a fisheries of a whole Mekong basin,” Weatherby says. “So that would be a poignant detriment from only one project.” Less fish, in a segment where fish is a inexpensive and nutritionally critical partial of many people’s diets.

The WWF’s Marc Goichot warns of a long-term impact of vast dams like a Sesan 2 in a reduce Mekong region.

“It’s genocide by many cuts,” he says. “And what we’re saying is a Mekong stream complement is reacting faster and to a bigger border than other vast rivers. So a stream levels of change already function in a Mekong dish are already carrying some critical impacts downstream on channels of a Mekong though also clearly on a Mekong delta, that is falling and shrinking.”

Meanwhile, Cambodia skeleton to build dual some-more dams on a Mekong categorical stem, next a Sesan 2. Upstream on a Mekong, in adjacent Laos, dual new dams are already underneath construction.