The Stung Cheay Areng valley

Cheay Areng Dam

Known to conservationists as a biodiversity jewel of Southeast Asia, the government of Cambodia (with China's help) is proposing to build a dam in a densely populated region of the Stung Cheay Areng. If built, the dam's reservoir would flood almost two thousand hectares of land belonging to the indigenous Khmer Daeum, along with five hundred hectares of sacred land in the Central Cardamom Protected Forest. More than 1,500 people would have to relocate from their homes and farmlands. Thousands more would be negatively impacted by the dam, which would block the flow of the river and destroy downstream habitats for wild fish that are crucial  to the local economy. The dam would alter the natural seasonal flow variation of the Stung Cheay Areng, which local communities depend upon to nourish over six hundred hectares of rice paddies with nutrient-rich waters.

The reservoir created by the Stung Cheay Areng Dam would flood the habitat of 31 endangered fauna species. This habitat includes the most important breeding site for the endangered Siamese Crocodile. This 3-meter-long reptile is already extinct over 99% of its original range, with the Areng River offering the most secure breeding site for 40 to 50 crocodiles. Other rare species threatened by the dam include tigers, Asian elephants, pileated gibbons, and one of the world's most prized freshwater fish, the Asian arowana (considered lucky in many Asian cultures).

Many other rivers in the Cardamom range have dams proposed for them already, such as the Atay Dam at the village of O'Som, which is already underway. However, the recent Master Plan Study of Hydropower Development in Cambodia (2007) identified ten priority sites that would be sufficient to meet projected national electricity demand, and Stung Cheay Areng was not on the list. Nevertheless, in 2006, China Southern Power Grid signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Cambodian government to study the dam's feasibility.  It was later reported in November 2010, that a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with China Guodian Corporation after China Southern Power Grid announced they were no longer pursuing the project. China Guodian Corporation has since reported that the dam's feasibility study was completed in November 2011 and approved on May 25th, 2012. In late 2013, China Guodian Corporation pulled out of the dam citing that it was not economically viable.  Since then, Sinohydro Resources, a subsidary of Powerchina, has recieved a concession in order to begin investing in the project, by studying and building the dam.  Since mid-March 2014, people living in the Areng Valley, who oppose the project have held a blockade preventing Sinohydro Resources and its workers from entering the area.

China is offering to build revenue-generating hydropower projects and other energy-related infrastructure for Cambodia in exchange for a large future share in the country's currently untapped natural resources, especially oil and gas. To learn more about these projects, read the latest report.

View photographs from the Areng Valley taken by Luke Duggleby and a video on the fight for the Areng Valley.