The Sesan, Srepok and Sekong Rivers at a Crossroads:
Poorly Planned Hydropower Dams Threaten Sustainable Development Efforts
[Banlung, Ratanakiri, Cambodia] The 3S Rivers Protection Network and International Rivers have launched a report that assesses the various actors operating in the Sesan, Srepok, and Sekong (3S) Rivers Basin with a stake in the development of hydropower and the threat that the scramble to exploit the area’s water resources poses to the region and its people.
3S Rivers Under Threat: Understanding New Threats and Challenges from Hydropower Development to Biodiversity and Community Rights in the 3S River Basin takes stock of the past problems with hydropower development in the region, and maps out the policies, agendas, and actors shaping the region’s hydropower development, in order to fill information gaps and promote discussion about the future of the 3S rivers and the people who depend on the basin’s resources.
“For too long, hydropower developers and their proponents have remained unaccountable to the region’s environment and people in the 3S River Basin. Feasibility studies are inadequate, information about the dams and energy plans is lacking, and affected communities are often completely absent from the planning processes or decisions being made,” said Mr. Meach Mean, Coordinator of the 3S Rivers Protection Network. “It’s time to learn the valuable lessons from past mistakes before it’s too late.”
With more than 20 hydropower dams already built on the 3S rivers, and plans to build 26 more, the report details some of the most problematic projects, such as the Lower Sesan 2 Dam, planned on one of the last remaining free-flowing stretches of the 3S rivers in Cambodia. The Lower Sesan 2 Dam, located at the confluence of the Sesan and Srepok rivers illustrates a poorly planned project that threatens to unleash large-scale environmental damage and set back development efforts in the region. If built, experts warn that 9.3 percent of the Mekong River Basin’s fish biomass will be lost and between 6-8 percent of the basin’s sediment flows will be blocked. The havoc caused by the dam will result in lost income and disrupt food security for the region’s fisheries and farmers.
“The Lower Sesan 2 Dam is a perfect example of a project that should not be built, as its potentially as environmentally and socially destructive as many of the proposed mainstream dams on the Mekong River,” said Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia Program Director for International Rivers. “The economic feasibility and practicality of the project is highly questionable due to increasing water scarcity issues from poorly planned upstream hydropower projects. There is a desperate need for the actors involved to step back, open up planning processes to public scrutiny, and look at the bigger picture of the need to sustainably manage water resources in the region.”
The report also provides information on a number of influential actors, such as international financial institutions, playing a role in the region’s hydropower sector. While no longer directly building dams in the area, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is playing a key role in promoting regional power trade and facilitating the construction of transmission lines, which many of the planned hydropower dams depend on to be economically feasible. At the same time, the outcomes of technical assistance projects like the ADB’s Sesan, Sre Pok, and Sekong River Basins Development Study in Kingdom of Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and Socialist Republic of Vietnam, which aimed to draft a road map for future development of water resources, have largely been ignored and deemed unsuccessful. Significant concerns were heard from stakeholders and documented in the project’s 2010 final report, which stated that “the 3S is approaching some degree of a water crisis and that there are fundamental problems associated with current trends in resources uses.” Despite these concerns, there is little effort amongst the actors to remedy the situation, and the ADB is apparently pushing ahead with plans to develop regional transmission lines that will connect to these hydropower projects.
The 3S Rivers Under Threat report also documents regional and bilateral initiatives, such as the Development Triangle Area of Cambodia-Laos and Vietnam, established by the governments of Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, that are helping to drive the dam building rush in the 3S River Basin.
“This report is designed to help policy-makers and the public better understand some of the challenges currently facing the 3S region’s natural resources and how closely interconnected the management of the rivers’ natural resources is with people’s livelihoods and their future,” said Mr. Mark Grimsditch, the report’s author. “The future wellbeing of the 3S rivers and its people is dependent upon a change in approach to the management of the area’s resources. More participatory energy planning and adequate assessments, including looking into the dams’ cumulative impacts and exploring other energy solutions, would be a positive step forward for Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.”
The 3S River Basin is a major tributary of the Mekong River. Located in the countries of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, the basin supports nearly 3.5 million people, many of whom are ethnic minorities and highly depend on the rivers’ rich natural resources for their survival. The area is also well recognized for its biological importance in terms of its rich aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems in which more than 20 percent of the basin is currently designated as protected areas, including the Lumphait Wildlife Sanctuary and Virachey National Park in Cambodia.
Download the report in English and Khmer