A third year student from Royal University of Agriculture, Sreypenh, shared her impression on Lower Sesan II (LSII) hydropower project after meeting with the dam affected community in Srekor Commune of Stueng Treng province in December last year during an exchange visit hosted by Oxfam’s youth partner-the Cambodia Volunteers for Society (CVS).
Sreypenh is 22 years old. She moved to Phnom Penh three years ago to pursue her study at Royal University of Agriculture. Sreypenh said electricity is essential for her daily life in Phnom Penh. She has been supportive of hydropower development projects as she thought it would give a great benefit to increase the Cambodian economy, despite its impact on the Mekong’s ecosystem.
Some negative impact is unavoidable for every development project, Sreypenh said before joining the trip with CVS. However, what she thought then is different to what she has seen in the community where the hydropower development project is being developed.
Sreypenh’s perspective on hydropower development projects has changed gradually when she started to talk with the dam affected villagers in Sreikor and learned about the facts behind the hydropower project.
She was shocked by the current situation for the affected community. She said, “It’s a very painful feeling to see the local people suffering as a result of the dam project. I can’t dare to imagine if I was in their situation when all their belongings including their house, lands and farms have been taken away.”
Stung Treng Provincial Spokesman said approximately 93 affected families out of 500 in Srekor Commune have refused to relocate to the new resettlement site that was offered by the government and company as part of the compensation mechanism. He said the government has prepared a proper compensation policy to ensure the well-being of the affected communities. If the affected communities will not take the compensation and leave there will be a problem as the whole area of Srekor Commune will be entirely flooded because of the reservoir of LSS II dam, said the provincial spokesman.
“We can’t survive in the new resettlement village,” said Nath Souta, 62, a farmer who has lived in the area for almost her entire life. “We have to buy everything in the new village including, water, fish, banana, mango, vegetable while we can get it free in our village. The compensationmoney won’t last for long,” said Souta.
The affected community of Sreikor is currently struggling and seeking support from different stakeholders including government and non-government organizations. In meeting with Sreypenh and her youth group, the hydropower dam affected community expressed their concerns and disappointment with the government’s decision over LSS II dam project because this project did not have any proper consultations with the communities and importantly villagers have felt they are left out.
“This dam project is killing us. This is what the government decided to sacrifice us for this development,” said Souta while talking to Sreypenh and the youth group.
The story of Souta and other affected villagers in Sreikor, has been very emotional for Sreypen. “I didn’t know this hydropower project can cause a lot of harm to local communities. I was happy to hear about the government compensation policy, but it does not seem to be working well. The affected people are still suffering,” said Sreypenh.
After the meeting with provincial government officials, local authorities, and the affected communities, Sreypenh has observed and analyzed the information and her perspective has changed.
“I don’t think this development project is sustainable. It harms to the environment and the livelihood of the local people,” she said.
Sreypenh has committed to share the issue of hydropower development project that she witnessed, especially the concerns from the affected community, to her family and friends at work and her classmates at the university. She believes that getting more people to be aware of the issues is one of the possible ways to help the community.
Oxfam supported youth partner, CVS, to promote youth participation in Mekong water governance by bringing together 22 youth from university, CSOs and community to exchange their knowledge, experience and learn about water management issues including hydropower development projects.
“We commit to work together to spread these concerns by talking to people, media and joining campaign activities. We hope our voices will be heard by decision makers, especially the Mekong governments,” said Sreypenh.