SRAE KOR, Cambodia (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Near this fishing village on the banks of the Sesan River in northern Cambodia, a planned hydroelectric dam threatens to inundate an area almost half the size of Singapore – and submerge seven villages including this one, sparking fury among residents, tempered by fear.
The residents of Srae Kor oppose the dam, which would displace all 420 families from their homes, farms and ancestral burial grounds. However, they are also nervous about campaigning against a project led by a powerful businessman with close ties to the much-feared Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has never hesitated to unleash security forces to stamp out any hint of opposition to his plans.
Controversy over the 400-megawatt Lower Sesan 2 dam is the latest battle along Southeast Asia’s waterways, which the region’s most underdeveloped countries are using to harness energy. But this project stands out as one of the worst proposed dams on the lower Mekong River basin, with activists warning that it could threaten livelihoods and trigger a food security crisis, with effects likely to be felt as far away as the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.
Residents say the government is keeping them in the dark and are relying on radio reports to find out what might happen to them. Cambodia’s Cabinet approved the dam in November 2012. Then in February, the parliament passed a $781-million guarantee for the purchase of electricity generated by the dam.