An interview with Mr Pech Sokhem, representative to Cambodia for CPWF-Mekong
By Songpol Kaopatumtip
Do you think it is possible to build a better dam?
As an optimistic person I can say yes. But there are certain conditions that have to be met.
Firstly, the dam must not be built across the main river, as its impact on fisheries and other ecosystems will be greater than building it on a tributary.
Secondly, the selection of the dam construction site must be based on the minimum social and environmental impacts. In some countries, policy-makers have pushed for dam construction in national forests so that they can make side-benefits from logging.
Thirdly, there must be a comprehensive option assessment for meeting energy demand and technical options to reduce negative impacts, such as the use of turbines which kill fewer fish, and dams designed to reduce sediment flows and downstream erosion.
What are the problems with current dams?
The cost-and-benefit analysis is not always accurate. Most of the time the cost is higher than initially estimated. There are also hidden costs such as the loss of livelihoods and fishery. These costs tend to be overlooked. That makes the actual cost of dam construction much higher. In this event, project owners will externalise the hidden cost to the people who will be affected by the construction. For example, when the estimated cost of relocation is lower than the actual scope, they will reduce the compensation to the affected villagers, and compromise the scope of the social and environmental management plan.
What would be a perfect dam?
It’s hard to find a perfect dam at the moment. There’s nothing like a perfect dam in the Mekong region or even around the world.
You generate power by damming the natural water courses and you cause not only lost opportunities but also a lot of associated risks.
In the Mekong Basin, a large number of people – the highest number among all the basins in the world – rely on fisheries for their livelihoods. An impact on fisheries will directly affect food security in the region.
Note: The First Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy will take place from December 7-9, 2011 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The event will discuss how to address sustainability issues within the context of water, food and energy, to ensure that both current and future developments benefit all water uses and users. It is the first in a series of annual forums, which brings together representatives from government, industry, financiers, civil society, and research institutions for this constructive dialogue. See the agenda and press release.