The Kamchay River valley in Bokor National Park that will be flooded by the Kamchay Dam.


The Cambodian government is on the threshold of committing to an extensive hydropower program mostly with the backing of Chinese financiers and construction companies. Cambodia's free flowing rivers and abundant natural resources are invaluable assets, the health of which are vital to the well-being of Cambodia’s rural population. Poorly conceived hydropower development could irreparably damage these resources and undermine Cambodia’s sustainable development.{C}

Communities in Cambodia are no stranger to the impacts of hydropower dams. Over the past decade, 55,000 villagers once dependant upon the Sesan River in Northeast Cambodia have become impoverished following the construction of the Yali Falls Dam upstream in Vietnam. Despite impacts remaining largely unaddressed, four more major hydropower projects have been built or are under construction on the river in Vietnam, forcing thousands downstream to move elsewhere to survive. Since 2003, Vietnam has started construction on a series of dams on the neighboring Srepok River and in Laos on the Sekong River, endangering Cambodian villagers downstream.

In 2005, the Cambodian Government approved its first major hydropower project - the 110 meter high Kamchay Dam. The contract to build and operate the project was given to Sinohydro Corporation, China's largest dam builder. This dam flooded 2,000 hectares of Bokor National Park, home to a number of endangered species and an important resource to local communities. High-level Cambodian and Chinese government officials pushed forward the Kamchay Dam’s development in closed-door negotiations. The project's Environmental Impact Assessment report was only completed in 2011, just months before the dam became fully operational in December 2011. 

Since 2007, five more major dams have been approved and a further twelve are known to be under study by Chinese, South Korean and Vietnamese companies. Of these projects, the approved Lower Sesan 2 Dam in Stung Treng province is of significant concern as the dam's significant impacts to fisheries and sediment flows will impact the Mekong River and  be transboundary. 

Another project of particular concern is the proposed Sambor hydropower project, located on the Mekong mainstream in Kratie province. If approved, it would have a massive impact on the Mekong River’s fisheries and those communities dependent upon them for income and subsistence, as well as on endangered species such as the Irrawaddy dolphin. Another proposed mainstream dam, the Don Sahong Dam, located in Laos less than 2 kilometers upstream of the Laos-Cambodia border, also threatens Cambodia's fisheries if built.  Another project currently being considered by the Cambodian government, is the Stung Cheay Areng Dam, which threatens 500 hectares of the Central Cardamon Protected Forest, along with important breeding grounds for the critically endangered Siamese crocodile.  

In Cambodia, many feasible options exist to meet energy needs that do not destroy the rivers upon which many communities depend. While Cambodia’s energy planning process currently remains closed to public participation, civil society organizations have begun to argue for more sustainable energy options for powering 21st century Cambodia's with decentralized generation.

International Rivers' Southeast Asia program is working with partners in Cambodia to support their calls for reparation for dam-affected communities and sustainable energy development in Cambodia.

More information: 

Read "Cambodia's Hydropower Development and China's Involvement" by International Rivers and the Rivers Coalition of Cambodia (January 2008)

Visit the websites of International Rivers' partners in Cambodia: NGO Forum on Cambodia, the Sesan-Srepok-Sekong Rivers Protection Network (3SPN), Fisheries Action Coalition Team, and the Cultural and Environmental Preservation Association.

Visit the websites of other organizations working on river issues in Cambodia: Probe International, the Australian Mekong Resource Center, and Oxfam Australia.