A Change of Guard

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Saturday, 30 November 2013

New Film Highlights Hydropower Dams and Food Security Concerns in Cambodia

Posted by Sonia Harmon of National Geographic in Water Currents on November 27, 2013

A woman fishes on Tonle Sap at sunset near Akal village. Photograph by Kristin Harrison and Jeremy Ginsberg.

Scientists and conservation experts are urging the government of Cambodia to put a moratorium on the development of hydropower dams, and now Conservation International has released a new short film, Hydropower Impacts and Alternatives, that takes a closer look at the issues surrounding the dam construction in the 3-S basin within the Greater Mekong River System.

There is a clear need for more power generation in Cambodia—according to Bunra Seng, Director of Conservation International’s Greater Mekong program in Cambodia, most people still lack reliable access to electricity and less than 10 percent of Cambodia’s total installed capacity has been developed. But scientists and conservation experts are urging the government to address the issue by developing sustainable, science-based solutions to the energy problems first. (Related: “Moratorium Needed on Mekong River Dams.”)

The 15-minute film explores the role of the Sekong, Srepok, and Sesan (3-S) Rivers as the most critical tributaries feeding into the Lower Mekong River, as well as how hydropower development will affect the ecosystem and the people living in the region. The greatest concern shown in the film is the affect of the dams on Cambodia’s food security.

Photo of Akal Village
Akal village, in the middle of Tonle Sap, site of the CI-sponsored Fish Sanctuary and Biodiversity Protection Project (FSBPP). Photograph by Kristin Harrison and Jeremy Ginsberg.

“This film clearly and visually articulates the critical importance of this river system for its energy provision potential, as well as the fish migration, sediment and water flows that nourish critical ecosystems and feed Cambodia’s people,” said Dr. Tracy Farrell of Conservation International’s Greater Mekong program.

Recent studies have predicted that the dams will eliminate a significant portion of fish migration into the Tonle Sap Lake, one of the most productive inland fisheries on the planet, and block 90 percent of sediment flows needed to deliver nutrients to the lake and maintain fertile soils for agriculture. As a result, this could impact the health, livelihood, and food security of tens of thousands of villagers and millions of people further downstream that depend on the freshwater system. (Related: “Photos: Dams Threaten Mekong River Megafishes.”)

But the film does more than just highlight the problems with the dams; it also suggests potential revisions to minimize damage to the ecosystem including alternate placements of the dams and the design of sediment release mechanisms. Watch the full film below to learn more.

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