Cambodia: Relocation site for Sesan villagers flooded

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Stung Treng’s Srekor village seen close to submersion after the closing of several Lower Sesan II dam gates. Photo supplied

A resettlement site for residents evicted from a now-flooded area near the Lower Sesan II Dam is itself facing inundation, with 15 hectares of crops destroyed and 300 metres of a newly built road already submerged.

Hundreds of residents from Stung Treng’s Srekor village affected by the dam – which went online in September – accepted compensation from the Hydro Power Lower Sesan 2 Co Ltd and moved to resettlement sites.

Flooding in the old Srekor village has now reached the town’s rooftops and, according to Siek Mekong, chief of Srekor commune, the new settlement area provided by the company, with the assistance of the government, is also being inundated.

According to Mekong, rice and cashew crops in the new town have been submerged for around two weeks already, and are completely destroyed.

“The water is at hip level,” he explained. Mekong also said the villagers are unable to use the newly built road because flooding there is a metre high. Some have resorted to using boats.

Commune authorities have made a preliminary report on the situation, while the provincial hall spokesman and provincial director of the Mines and Energy Department declined to comment yesterday.

“The rice plantation has been submerged. People lost money and time. I think that the company’s experts are not capable or specialised enough,” Mekong said, adding that villagers are demanding compensation from the company based on market prices.

Hydro Power Lower Sesan 2 Co Ltd is a joint venture between the Chinese Hydrolancang International Energy, Vietnam-based EVN International and Cambodia’s Royal Group, headed by tycoon Kith Meng. The project has been controversial from the start, with experts warning the dam would have catastrophic impacts on fish habitats and the annual flood cycle, and human rights groups lamenting the forced evictions of thousands of indigenous villagers from their ancestral lands.

Chhay Meng, a company representative, said that they were aware of the flooded crops and are inspecting the situation. Meng blamed the villagers for extending their allotted plots of land to an area near a canal, which he said
“is very vulnerable to flooding”. Despite this, Meng said the company was looking into compensating the affected families with new plots of farmland. He declined to comment further.

The provincial government had offered all villagers living in what is now the dam’s reservoir a compensation package of $6,000 per family or 5 hectares of land – including a newly built home – regardless of location. While most accepted one of the two options, around 60 of the 570 families refused any deal.

They have moved most of their belongings to relatives’ homes or personal property on higher ground, but still visit the village regularly, even as houses there become fully submerged.

Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, former head of the now-shuttered NGO Mother Nature, said the situation at the resettlement site was “the beginning of a nightmare”.

Mother Nature worked closely with the Srekor villagers before their relocation, and Gonzalez-Davidson said that many of them were resistant to moving, because “they find the relocation site totally unacceptable”.

“I’m sure there was no due diligence, no real consultation,” Gonzalez-Davidson continued, adding that he “anticipate[s] it will only get worse”.

Additional reporting by Andrew Nachemson

Source: The PhnomPenhPost

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