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PHNOM PENH – Cambodians staged a protest Thursday to share the concerns of more than a quarter of a million people who are calling on Laos to suspend construction of the Don Sahong hydropower project on the Mekong River.
At the protest Chhith Sam Ath, country director of the World Wide Fund for Nature, said Don Sahong Dam, a 260-megawatt hydropower project, could bring about the demise of important fisheries and critically endangered Mekong dolphins.
Chhith Sam Ath said around 85 dolphins are now restricted to a 190 kilometre stretch of the river between southern Laos and northeast Cambodia, with the dam project in southern Laos just 1 kilometre upstream of the dolphins’ core habitat.
In June, Laos announced its decision to have the Don Sahong project undergo a Mekong River Commission consultation process.
The process requires Laos to hold intergovernmental consultations before proceeding with the dam and conduct and share studies on the project’s environmental and social impact.
The process will take at least six months to complete.
The WWF said since May this year, 12,404 concerned Cambodians have added their names to a WWF public petition opposing the dam.
The local action, supported by members of the River Coalition in Cambodia under facilitation of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, was bolstered by a global online petition signed by 255,596 people representing more than 200 countries.
Chhith Sam Ath said, “more than a quarter of a million people around the world are sending a strong and clear message to Mega First. Stop Don Sahong Dam or risk the dubious ‘honor’ of precipitating the extinction of a species. Don Sahong Dam is a dangerous experiment and Mega First is gambling with the livelihoods of millions.”
Mega First is a Malaysian utility conglomerate.
The Stop Don Sahong event, organised by the WWF, included 25 community members from the Mekong and Tonle Sap, 50 youths from Phnom Penh, NGO representatives and Buddhist monks working on conservation awareness along the river.
As part of the event, boats travelled along the Mekong displaying banners calling on Mega First to respond to the huge public opposition to their project.
WWF said the dam builders intend to excavate millions of tonnes of rock using explosives, creating strong sound waves that could potentially kill dolphins who have highly sensitive hearing structures.
Increased boat traffic, changes in water quality and habitat degradation represent other risks.
It added that the dam will block the only channel available for dry-season fish migration, putting at risk the world’s most productive inland fisheries and the livelihoods of 60 million people living in the Lower Mekong Basin.
An Hou, chief of Community Fishery Network in the Sambor district of Kratie province in Cambodia, said, “Without fish and dolphins, our livelihoods will be destroyed.”
“We are helpless and we do not know what to do if the dam goes ahead. We ask Mega First’s executive chairman, Mr Goh (Nan Kioh), to stop the dam construction and rethink this project, and consider carefully the lives of millions of people who depend on the Mekong River,” he added.
The WWF called for an immediate halt to any further development of the Don Sahong project until the developers have addressed significant gaps identified in the project documents, such as the feasibility studies and the Environmental Impact Assessment.
Additionally, an independent and sound assessment of the Don Sahong project against more sustainable alternatives must be conducted.
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