Cambodia is currently facing a dilemma whereby 80 percent of its population lacks reliable access to electricity. In order to address this problem, the country has begun to seriously consider hydroelectric power generated by dams. However, the improvement in Cambodia’s electricity situation may come at the cost of other, equally important resources.
A total of 42 dams are expected to be built along the Sekong, Srepok, and Sesan rivers in Cambodia, These three rivers are the most critical tributaries feeding into the Lower Mekong River, as they provide major routes for migrating fish and essential water and sediment flows to the downstream flood plains, including those that nourish the Tonle Sap Lake, one of the most productive inland fisheries on the planet.
The primary concern with the construction of the dams is that a significant portion of the fish migration into the Tonle Sap Lake will be wiped out and 90 percent of sediment flow will be blocked. This blockage would have a negative impact on the Tonle Sap Lake because the sediment flow delivers nutrients to the water body and maintains fertile soils for agriculture. These changes could potentially impact the health, livelihood and food security of more than 55,000 villagers from 16 ethnic groups that live along the path of the three rivers. Several million more people downstream could be affected as well due to their dependence on the freshwater system’s fish populations and agriculture.
A new film highlights the concerns stemming from the construction of the dams in Cambodia. The film, entitled, “Hydropower in Cambodia: Impacts and Alternatives,” highlights several changes that can be made to improve the current building plans for the dams.
Such changes could potentially include alternate placements of the dams and the design of sediment release mechanisms, both of which will help to minimize damage to the ecosystem. According to Dr. Tracy Farrell of Conservation International’s Greater Mekong program, the film “clearly and visually articulates the critical importance of this river system for its energy provision potential, as well as the fish migration, sediment and water flows that nourish critical ecosystems and feed Cambodia’s people.”
– Cavarrio Carter