SOCIAL & ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF THE ARENG DAM
Ever since our campaign to stop the Cheay Areng hydro-dam by the Chinese giant Sinohydro took off, the government of Cambodia, and in particular the Ministry of Mines and Energy have been busy making statements aimed at discrediting Mother Nature and those opposing the dam. Powerful government members time and again dismissed Mother Nature as an organization that is 'exaggerating the true impacts of the dam so that it can attract more funds from donors', and tried (in vain) to paint the Areng dam as a solution for the country's severe energy shortage.
Although the official line of the government is that the dam is only under feasibility and further studies need to be done before a decision is made on whether to build it or not, an investigation by Mother Nature and our partner organizations proved that the dam was under so-called 'feasibility' only on paper. Truth is, Sinohydro had as early as of January 2014 started signing agreements with construction companies (as this screenshot of the web site for the engineering company Lancangiang, translated into English, shows). Further evidence of the need for the dam to go ahead, despite the lack of consultation of local communities and the lack of valid environmental and social impact assessments being done, was see in the way that commune, district and provincial authorities pressured and threatened the indigenous communities of the Areng Valley into moving out of the area. Time and again, the authorities resorted to the usual intimidating, coercion and outright lies seen in other parts of the country, stating that 'this project is good for the benefit of the country', it is 'unstoppable as it has already been signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen', 'local communities who decide to stay will have to 'find a floating device or risk drowning', etc.
Most if not all of the hydroelectric projects the Cambodian government has pushed ahead in the last few years have not just brought severe environmental destruction and degradation of the surrounding forests, there has also been zero accountability, transparency, or respect for the nation's laws. To make matters worse, impact assessments, relocation and compensation, as well as official approval of the projects by the relevant government bodies (such as National Assembly and Senate), have always come (if at all) after, not before, actual construction of these dams has been well under way. To think that the government will act in a different way in regards to the Areng hydro-dam was and is outright foolish and suicidal.
The project, already rejected by two other Chinese companies (China Southern Power Grid and China Guodian) due to the dam's 'high social and environmental impacts' and its 'lack of economic feasibility', would create a reservoir of at least 10,000 hectares and produce a paltry energy output of 108 MW. This reservoir, much larger than the reservoir created in other nearby dams even though these create more energy, would require that the entire population of the valley is forced out of their ancestral lands.
This figure of 108 Megawatts of power, it must be remarked, is the maximum amount of energy the dam would generate and would only be reached (if at all) at the height of the rainy season, which in Cambodia doesn't last longer than four months. This means that, in the months prior to the start of the monsoon season, from February to Around June, when the demand for energy is at its highest, the dam would produce almost no electricity. Also, and adding to the dam's massive environmental footprint, an underground tunnel over 20 Kms long would need to be built in order to further pressurize the water so that enough electricity is generated (click here to see a map by Sinohydro's engineering team depicting this). This tunnel would be built straight across one of the country's most important elephant corridors. Needless to say, access roads and transmission lines would need to be built, cutting straight through pristine jungles, home to the one of the country's very last healthy forests. Furthermore, the dam would open up the whole of the Central Cardamom Forests, one of South East Asia's largest tracts of continuous forests, to anarchic and wide scale logging an poaching, as we have seen with other dams recently built (Ta Tai, Atay, Roussey Chrum, etc) in the provinces of Koh Kong and Pursat.
Click here to see a list of documents Mother Nature has managed to gather in relation to the proposed Cheay Areng hydro-dam.
Click on the arrows on the picture below to see a slideshow detailing some of the impacts the proposed dam will have on the communities, their livelihoods, and the amazing eco-system that exists in and around the valley. Or you can also read a detailed report on the impacts of the proposed hydroelectric dam, prepared by Conservation International and Cambodia's Forestry Administration, by clicking here;