New Chinese dam on the Mekong to have devastating environmental consequences
by Peter Hung

With an investment of almost US$ 5 billion, China is set to build the Sambor dam in Cambodia. According to experts, it will have a very negative impact on the natural environment and on the Cambodians and Vietnamese living in the Mekong Delta. The great river provides food security to about 60 million people living in the settlements along its course.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) –  Vietnamese communities living along the banks of the Mekong River are very concerned about the destructive impact of a new Sino-Cambodian dam on the region's ecosystem.

Once completed, the Sambor Dam will be the largest hydroelectric power station on the Mekong River. The latter flows for about 4,350 kilometres and is the second river basin in the world for biodiversity after the Amazon.

The Mekong provides food security to about 60 million people living in settlements along its course, which runs from the Tibetan plateau through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam to the South China Sea.

In the north, China controls the flow of the Mekong waters and has already built eight dams in the upper section of the river and is investing in more than half of the 11 dams planned further south.

Chinese companies have invested billions of dollars but have not carried out environmental and social impact assessments.

China has compensated its Southeast Asian neighbours with investments and low-interest loans, which have enabled state firms and agencies in Thailand, Vietnam and Laos to benefit from new hydroelectric projects.

Cambodia is one of the most active. The governments in Beijing and Phnom Penh have already worked on the Lower Se San Hydroelectric dam, at a cost of US$ 816 million, with a capacity of 400 megawatts.

At a cost of almost US$ 5 billion, China is now preparing to build the Sambor Dam in Cambodia.

However, according to experts, this dam will negatively impact the area’s natural environment and the lives of Cambodians and Vietnamese living in the Mekong Delta.

The Sambor Dam was designed by the China Southern Power Grid Company (CSPGC) and will have an unprecedented reservoir of 620 square kilometers.

A report released by the US National Heritage Institute (NHI) four days ago notes that it “will also destroy the Mekong River’s species”. Indeed, "the Sambor Dam project will bring the great benefits of electricity to Cambodia, but it is also contributing to the destruction of living environment of millions of Cambodians."

The US experts have asked the two governments to stop the project but Phnom Penh has not yet responded.

The construction of the plant will have dire consequences for Vietnam where millions of people will be affected by the change in the flow of the Mekong.

Over the next ten years, the river will change drastically. The lack of a fresh water in the delta will increase salinity levels and the frequency of drought, crippling its agricultural sector.

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) has carried out many scientific studies and made several appeals to restrict dam constructions on the river. Its goal is to ensure the sustainable development of all the countries in which it flows.

According to the Commission's estimates, the benefits from the Sambor Dam are much lower than the losses it will generate. For many experts, the negative impact on fishing and agriculture and the risk of extinction of many animal and plant species are very high.