Construction of Areng Dam Continues Despite Natives Protests

Regardless of the dam's progression, Chong inhabitants continue to express their discontent.

October 21st, 2014

Regardless of the dam’s progression, Chong inhabitants continue to express their discontent.

The detention and release of 11 environmental activists in Cambodia’s Areng Valley in mid-September ended the last major protests of the controversial Stung Cheay Areng hydro dam project.

Activists had been detaining and blocking convoys of vehicles into the valley since March of this year, but their makeshift roadblock has since been commandeered by the country’s Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.

The valley’s native Chong inhabitants have watched the dam project grow with a mixture of fear and bitterness. The Chong have dwelt along the Areng for over 600 years but soon, if the dam is completed, it will flood at least 26,000 acres of land. Mother Jones writes that the estimates range between 40 and 77 square miles.

This will displace more than 1,500 people, and is already inviting the rape of the Central Cardamom Protected Forest. To begin the dam project, new roads had to be built to transport equipment back and forth, providing free access to unscrupulous timber companies. At least 20,000 cubic yards of rosewood (worth an estimated $220 million in timber) have been illegally logged since the dam project began.

The dam itself is being constructed by Sinohydro Resources, China’s largest dam-building contractor and its third firm to take on the task. Initially, China Southern Power Grid was to build the dam, but relinquished its contract with the Cambodian government in 2010 on purportedly “moral” grounds.

A report from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency on the project later pointed out that the dam would only generate an output of 108 megawatts – too little for so high a monetary and environmental cost.

China Guodian Corporation was the next firm to take up the project, but pulled out in 2013. They, too, found the dam to be economically unviable.

Though the dam would be hypothetically capable of generating enough power for 87,000 homes, International Rivers argues that “the dam will only operate at 46 percent capacity during the dry season, precisely when Cambodia most needs the electricity.”

In addition to this low energy output, the dam is projected to be more of a burden to Cambodia than a blessing – even without taking the valley’s 31 endangered animals into account. Areng is just one of 17 dams the country wants to build over the next two decades, but most of their power will be exported to neighboring countries. What’s worse, Sinohydro will own the dam for the next 40 years before turning it over to the Cambodian government, at which time the dam’s maintenance costs and environmental impacts will potentially make it worthless to the country.

Despite all this, Cambodia’s Minister of Mines and Energy and Minister of Environment have both stated that the Areng dam is on schedule for completion by 2020.

But that hasn’t stopped natives from protesting.

“Even if they piled money one meter above my head, I don’t want their Chinese money,” one villager told Mother Jones’ Kalyanee Mam. “I want to stay in my village. Even with all this money, I could only spend it in this life. I wouldn’t be able to pass it on to my grandchildren. I just want my village and my land for the future of my grandchildren.”

by Planet Experts