Disputed Laos dam could destroy communities along the Mekong river
Up to a third of Mekong river communities living in Cambodia’s Kratie region could be forced to relocate if a controversial dam in neighbouring Laos is built, according to a local NGO.
The $3.5 billion Xayaburi dam is being constructed on the Mekong river near the Laos-Cambodian border.
Chief Sa Khim of the Kom Pong Kberng village in Cambodia’s Kratie Province, said his entire village will have to be moved once construction is finished.
“When the dam exists, it will be a struggle for my people because our village will be destroyed by the flooding caused by the sudden increase and release of water when they open the dam.
“We will lose everything when we relocate. It will take a longer time to rebuild our infrastructure and houses,” Mr Khim said.
Local fisherman and shop keeper Khom Ken said the loss of water from the Mekong would have a negative impact on the other residents in the village as well as strip them of their livelihoods.
“It would affect my family if we no longer were able to catch fish from the Mekong, but I still own my shop and have cashew and sesame farms.
“The majority of the families in this village rely solely on fishing for their income and employment, I am worried for them,” he said.
Mr Khim said he along with other community leaders had been invited to meetings held by international and local NGOs to convey the expected impact of the Xayaburi dam.
“I joined the campaign to stop the dam from being built, saying there will not be enough water for us to live,” he said.
Once the dam is completed, some of the arable land surrounding the Mekong river used for planting crops will no longer be available to communities.
Cambodian Rural Development Team project manager Dim Bin estimates 30 per cent of the people currently living in communities along the Mekong will have to be resettled.
“The level of the water will decrease meaning the land surrounding the river without any water will become infertile, food security will become an issue as they won’t be able to fish either.
“Another concern is whether the people who will be moving will receive compensation that is not much,” Mr Bin said.
Residents of Kom Pong Kberng have already begun securing potential new locations and sourcing alternative forms of income in case the dam is built and made operational.
“I and other people are preparing plans to move to the mainland. We actually have already found another location…our plan is already in progress,” Mr Khim said.
Newly settled families are farming and harvesting produce so the village has a safety net in the case of an emergency.
“We have already given 10 families some farming land to start planting cashew trees and we will be giving land to a further 10 families.
“I feel unhappy that I will have to move from my home as a result of the dam,” he said.
—[Sa Khim & Khom Ken interviews conducted via a Khmer/English translator. Feature photo (Mekong River) by Nick Parkin]