The cost of power: damming the Mekong - Cambodia

The cost of power: damming the Mekong - Cambodia

In recent years, China’s enthusiasm for dam building has spilled over into South-east Asia. Hydrolancang - a chinese state-owned enterprise responsible for no less than 7 dams in the upper Mekong - began in 2013 the construction of its first overseas hydropower project, the Lower Sesan II dam in northern Cambodia. The $800 million project have been among the most controversial and destructive ones to be developed in recent years and, once completed, it will block the Sesan and Srepok rivers - two of the main tributaries of the Mekong - creating a 36.000-hectares reservoir and displacing thousands of people who’ve been living along the river banks for generations, relying on it for
survival. The potential impacts, both good and bad, are enormous. Some estimates suggest that the dam could potentially generate a fifth of the power Cambodia is likely to need by 2018; yet its physical impacts could threaten the food security for tens of thousands of people

by contributor Giorgio Taraschi

In recent years, China’s enthusiasm for dam building has spilled over into South-east Asia. Hydrolancang - a chinese state-owned enterprise responsible for no less than 7 dams in the upper Mekong - began in 2013 the construction of its first overseas hydropower project, the Lower Sesan II dam in northern Cambodia. The $800 million project have been among the most controversial and destructive ones to be developed in recent years and, once completed, it will block the Sesan and Srepok rivers - two of the main tributaries of the Mekong - creating a 36.000-hectares reservoir and displacing thousands of people who’ve been living along the river banks for generations, relying on it for
survival. The potential impacts, both good and bad, are enormous. Some estimates suggest that the dam could potentially generate a fifth of the power Cambodia is likely to need by 2018; yet its physical impacts could threaten the food security for tens of thousands of people

View of the Lower Sesan 2 dam building site, located at the confluence of the Sesan and Srepok rivers, two of the main tributaries of the Mekong in Stung Treng, northern Cambodia. The $800 million and 400MW hydropower dam has been among the most controversial and destructive projects carried out by a chinese company in recent years. Once completed, it will create a 36.000-hectares reservoir, displacing thousands of people with an environmental impact that will be felt up to the river's delta in Vietnam An old fisherman from Kbal Romeas holding one of his hand-made bamboo fish traps he would normally sell. His house, along with many others, will soon be under water once the dam is completed. "I know I have no choice but my spirit is here; I was born here from a family of fishermen and that's what I've always done. What am I going to do in the new place withouth my river?" Daily life in Srae Sronok, one of the villages that will be flooded by the reservoir of the $800 million Lower Sesan 2 dam. All the houses in the village have been spray-painted in red with the LSS2 sign, meaning the owners will soon be forced to relocate. Stung Treng, northern Cambodia. A man from Srae Sronok on a water run between the river and his home. The village is located along the Srepok river, one of the main tributaries of the Mekong, and people have always had access to its waters for daily use. Relocating in the new isolated dry land built by the government and the dam's stakeholders is gonna bring a massive change in the lives of the ones who, for generations, have been so closely relying on the river. An old woman from Kbal Romeas sitting on a typical wooden canoe in the Srekor river, one of the main tributaries of the Mekong in Stung Treng, northern Cambodia. Most of the people left the village already and the boats are rarely used for fishing; instead old people use them to hang on to while bathing in the river. Father and son on a wooden cart outside their home in Kbal Romeas. Their house, like many others, has been spray-painted in red with the sign LSS2 (Lower Sesan 2) meaning they have to be relocated into the designated area, a scorching dusty piece of land along the main road to Ratanakiri province, northern Cambodia. Their village will soon be flooded by the reservoir of the new $800 million dam being built a few kilometers downstream. A security guard walks among the houses in the relocation site, a scorching dusty piece of land located along the main road to Ratanakiri province. All the evicted villagers are soon gonna be forced to move here. People were offered two options: either accept $6000 per family and re-build a house by themselves or move into a small concrete house with a tin roof with 5 hectares of land to farm. However the dry land conditions and the complete lack of trees will make it very hard for villagers to resettle. Workers from the relocation site arrive in the village of Kbal Romeas to collect teak wood from abandoned houses. Having no choice but to move away or drown, 89 out of 139 familes from Kbal Romeas agreed to be relocated in a scorching dusty piece of land along the main road to Ratanakiri. The villagers were offered two options: either accept $6000 per family and re-build a house by themselves or move into a small concrete house with a tin roof with 5 hectares of land to farm. Like many other promises though A villager from Srae Sronok storing wooden planks which he will use in the months to come to re-build a house in the new relocation site. The villagers were offered two options: either accept $6000 per family and re-build a house by themselves or move into a small concrete house with a tin roof and 5 hectares of land to farm. Like many other promises though, no official document has been yet provided. Stung Treng, northern Cambodia. A farmer working in his rice field at sunrise in Srae Sronok, one of the villages along the Srepok river that will be flooded by the dam's reservoir. The villagers were offered two options: either accept $6000 per family and re-build a house by themselves or move into a small concrete house with a tin roof and 5 hectares of land to farm. Like many other promises though, no official document has yet been provided. Mae Ton, 64, outside the sacred forest of Kot Bou along the Srepok river. Like many other villagers from Kbal Romeas, she belongs to the Phnong ethnic group, animists who believe their guardian spirits reside in the sacred forest, burial ground of their ancestors. The whole forest, along with her house, will be flooded by the dam's reservoir.
"The company never warned us about the project. We weren't offered any benefit like the people in the village. Here I have my fruit trees, my cows (...) Boys from Kbal Romeas gather at sunset to enjoy some home-made rice wine, a highly alcoholic drink young villagers use to brew and sell. In the background, one of the many houses that have been sprayed in red paint with the writing LSS2 by the company carrying out the relocation project. Sunset view of Kbal Romeas, one of the villages along the Mekong tributaries that are gonna flooded by the Lower Sesan 2 dam reservoir. Most of the houses were spray-painted in red with the sign LSS2. People were left with no choice but to relocate and all the villages are gonna be incorporated into one big community located in a scorching dusty area along the main road to Ratanakiri province. Snow Town, a brand new attraction inside one of the hundreds of shopping malls in Thailand. The hunger for electricity in cities like Bangkok is driving dam construction throughout the lower Mekong basin in Cambodia and Laos with an environmental impact that can be felt up to the river's delta in Vietnam. Teenegars playing volleyball at sunset inside one of the many construction yards of Diamond Island, the brand new commercial and residential area in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The LSS2 dam could potentially generate a fifth of the power Cambodia is likely to need by 2018 but the effects on the environment are devastating. Daily life in Srea Sronok, located along the Srepok river, one of the main tributaries of the Mekong in northern Cambodia. The village will soon be flooded by the reservoir created by the Lower Sesan 2 dam, a $800 million project carried out by Hydrolancang, a chinese company already responsible for no less than 7 dams in the upper mekong region. Children watch a movie on a laptop powered by a car battery. Most of Cambodians lack electricity and car batteries, which are charged once a week by a fuel-powered machine, are commonly used to power up small electronic devices or light bulbs. 
Most of the hydroelectric projects planned along the Mekong river seem to be necessary for the power demand from the rising metropolis around south-east asia. The LSS2 dam could potentially generate a fifth of the power Cambodia is likely to need by 2018 but the Kav York, 38, is the owner of the only shop in Kbal Romeas, selling mainly cigarettes, snacks and energy drinks. Widowed and with 5 kids, she doesn't want to relocate. Her late husband helped her build the shop which she runs inside her own house. Like all the other villagers, she hasn't seen the relocation site yet and only heard about it through word of mouth. "I don't want to go; I've always been living next to the river and raised my kids in the shade of these trees. What if the A young girl filling buckets from a water pump. The village of Kbal Romeas is located along the Srepok river, one of the main tributaries of the Mekong, and people have always had access to its waters for daily use. Relocating in the new isolated dry area built by the dam's stakeholders is gonna bring a massive change in the lives of the ones who, for generations, have been so closely relying on the river. A family sharing dinner by candlelight in Kbal Romeas, one of the villages that will be flooded by the dam's reservoir. Far from cities and towns, most Cambodians lack of electricity. "They say we're gonna have electricity in the new relocation site but, like many other promises they made, it's just a rumor and no one has ever showed up with an official document to prove it. All we know about the flooding and relocation is just by word of mouth" - says Keo Meap, community leader of Husband and wife lighting a smoky fire to keep mosquitos away from their cattles at night in Srae Sronok, one of the villages along the Srepok river that will be flooded by the dam's reservoir. Like most Cambodians, they lack of electricity. The LSS2 dam could potentially generate a fifth of the power Cambodia is likely to need by 2018 but the effects on the environment are devastating and the chance that small communities are ever gonna benefit from that same electricity is very unlikely. A widow from Kbal Romeas sits on top of a wooden canoe that her husband used for fishing. She now lives with her older brother in a house they'll soon have to leave behind. The village will in fact be flooded by the reservoir of the 400MW Lower Sesan 2 dam, a project carried out by Hydrolancang, a Chinese-state owned company responsible for no less than 7 dams in the upper Mekong region. Stung Treng, northern Cambodia. Daily life in Srae Sronok, one of the villages that will be flooded by the reservoir of the $800 million Lower Sesan 2 dam. All the houses in the village have been spray-painted in red with the LSS2 sign, meaning the owners will soon be forced to relocate. Stung Treng, northern Cambodia. A boy from Srae Sronok carving poles out of tree trunks which are gonna be used to build a new house in the relocation site. Like many others, he refuses to move into one of the several concrete houses provided by the government since there have been concerns about the building quality. The villages relocation area, a scorching dusty piece of land located along the main road to Ratanakiri province. All the evicted villagers are soon gonna be forced to move here. People were offered two options: either accept $6000 per family and re-build a house by themselves or move into a small concrete house with a tin roof with 5 hectares of land to farm. However the dry land conditions and the complete lack of trees will make it very hard for villagers to resettle. Early morning in Srae Sronok, one of the villages that will be flooded by the reservoir of the $800 million Lower Sesan 2 dam. Stung Treng, northern Cambodia. A man chasing after his cattles at sunset in Phluk, Stung Treng province, northern Cambodia. Despite hosting only 12 families, the village of Phluk, located 11 km downstream the dam's construction site, was once famous for his fishing community. Local fishermen used to earn between $15 and $25 per day selling fish to the surrounding communities. Now because of the dam and the calcium carbide they use for drilling, the amount of fish in the area has dropped dramatically. "The village is now very A young girl heads back home after filling buckets with river water for daily use. Despite hosting only 12 families, the village of Phluk, located 11 km downstream the dam's construction site, was once famous for his fishing community. Local fishermen used to earn between $15 and $25 per day selling fish to the surrounding communities. Now because of the dam and the calcium carbide they use for drilling, the amount of fish in the area has dropped dramatically. "The village is now very quite and we A fisherman walks along the fence inside the Lower Sesan 2 dam construction site. 
The dam, located only 1.5 Km below the confluence of the Sesan and Srepok river, will create a 36.000-hectares reservoir behind its wall, displacing around 5000 people and impacting the livelihood of 100.000 throughout the whole sub-Mekong region. The villagers of Phluk, located only 11 Km downstream, have witnessed a dramatic drop in fish since the dam construction began in 2013. 
"They use calcium carbide for drilling An escavator at work in Boeung Kak district. The whole area used to be a 90-hectares lake in the heart of Phnom Penh until sand filling started in recent years, turning it into a construction site for a future residential area. 
Phnom Penh is rising fast and some estimates suggest that the LSS2 dam could potentially generate a fifth of the power Cambodia is likely to need by 2018. However the country does not yet have the high voltage network to be able to distribute the power from the dam to the city. "This place [Phluk] was known in the whole community as the fishermen's village. We used to earn between $15 and $25 per day selling fish. Now, because of the dam and the substance they use for drilling [Calcium Carbide], the amount of fish has decreased dramatically. The village is now very quite and we no longer sell fish since there's barely enough to feed ourselves. We only have buffaloes and chickens but with the deforestation going on around here it's getting harder and harder. As Boys from Kbal Romeas gather at sunset to enjoy some home-made rice wine, a highly alcoholic drink young villagers use to brew and sell. In the background, one of the many houses that have been sprayed in red paint with the writing LSS2 by the company carrying out the relocation project. Early morning in Srae Sronok, a village built along the Srepok river, one of the main tributaries of the Mekong in northern Cambodia. Very few familes are still living here. Most of them have already decided to move to the relocation site to avoid facing the flood. Stung Treng, northern Cambodia. View of Diamond Island from the window of a brand new japanese hotel in Phnom Penh.
Most of the hydroelectric projects planned along the Mekong river seem to be necessary for the power demand from the rising metropolis around south-east asia. The LSS2 dam could potentially generate a fifth of the power Cambodia is likely to need by 2018 but the effects on the environment are devastating. A busy street junction in Diamond Island, the brand new commercial and residential area in Phnom Penh. Most of the hydroelectric projects planned along the Mekong river seem to be necessary for the power demand from the rising metropolis around south-east asia. The LSS2 dam could potentially generate a fifth of the power Cambodia is likely to need by 2018 but the effects on the environment are devastating. Father and son fishing along the Mekong river in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. 
Despite the several dam projects have caused a loss of fish throughout the whole sub-Mekong region, some estimates suggest that the LSS2 dam could potentially generate a fifth of the power Cambodia is likely to need by 2018.