Under an aid package of $600 million(Bt18.6 billion) from China, Cambodia is constructing the Kamchay Dam with an installed capacity of 180 Megawatts (MW) the biggest in Cambodia in the southwestern Kampot Province and the 120 MW Stung Atay Dam in Pursat Province.
The Kamchay Dam developed by China's largest hydropower developer, Sinohydro Corporation, is located wholly within the Bokor National Park and will flood 2,000 hectares of protected forest, according to a research report by the US-based conservationist International Rivers.
The project, to be completed by 2010, denied access to nontimber forest products to local residents, for whom many is an important source of income, and potentially a negative impact on a local tourist resort downstream of the dam, it said.
The Stung Atay, constructed by Yunnan Corporation for International Techno Economic cooperation, will be completed by 2012. The dam will flood a substantial area of the Central Cardamom Protect Forest, the report said.
"Cambodia's free flowing rivers and abundant natural resources are invaluable assets, the health of which are vital to the wellbeing of Cambodia's rural population," said Carl Middleton, Mekong Program Coordinator with International Rivers.
"Poorly conceived hydropower development could irreparably damage these resources and undermine Cambodia's sustainable development."
At present, only 20 percent of households in Cambodia have access to electricity. It is expected that the soaring demand for electricity will increase to more than 900 from the 212 MW in 2002.
The government has many hydropower projects under feasibility study, including the Sambor Dam to be built in the mainstream of the Mekong River in Kratie Province with a capacity of 465 or 3500 MW depending on the design and size of the reservoir.
The Sambor Dam, if built, would block major fish migrations and could decimate the income of tens of thousands of subsistence and commercial fishers. The dam also threatens the habitat for the endangered Irrawaddy Dolphin, around which a thriving local tourism industry has grown.
The Ministry of Industry, Mine and Energy estimated the country has the potential to generate approximately 10,000 M, of which more than 50 percent will come from the Mekong mainstream.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told an investment conference in Tokyo recently that his country has a great potential to generate electricity supplies for the region. Apart from Laos, Cambodia could be the "battery of Asia", he said.
The report recommends that Cambodia adopts international best practices in electricity planning, including the findings of the World Commission on Dams, which is widely recognised to be the international standard for energy and water planning.
"Cambodia has many choices for meeting our electricity needs including renewable and decentralised energy options that must be explored," said Ngy San, Deputy Executive Director with the NGO Forum on Cambodia.
by Supalak G Khundee