Cambodia debates impacts of dam projects

Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen has agreed to at least four Chinese-funded hydropower projects in the country as a part of a US$3 billion scheme to boost output, Reuters reports, but critics say local communities are being put at risk.

Opponents of the hydropower projects say local communities like those in Cambodia’s remote Cardamom mountains will pay the biggest price. Sok Nuon, a local, told Reuters, "We have been living here without a dam for many generations. We don’t want to see our ancestral lands stolen."

NGOs complain that the decision-making process on hydropower projects lacks transparency. "The lack of information from the Chinese dam builders is very disturbing – they do not consult or share information, " Asia Times quoted Seng Bunra, country director for Conservation International in Cambodia, as saying.

However, there is no disagreement among officials and activists that Cambodia needs to generate more power. Currently, only 20% of the
population has access to cheap, reliable sources of electricity, mainly in urban areas. Domestic demand for electricity is estimated to
grow by 20% per year.

"Chinese investment in hydropower is so important for Cambodia’s development, " said foreign minister Hor Namhong in January after
meeting with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi.

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