Local people’s Perspective: Demands for social justice from hydropower development

by Suon Siny


For my fellowship, I have collaborated with Northeastern Rural Development (NRD), a local non-governmental organization operating in Sambor district of Kratie province to do field data collection from January to March 2016. On May 27, 2016, NRD held an annual reflection workshop on Voice and Action of Women for Communities Fishery in Sambor District where I had the opportunity to present my draft findings.

There were 80 participants in the workshop including men and women representatives from all fishery communities, village heads, commune heads and the district governor for Sambor district. In this blog, I share my impressions on two narratives from workshop participants toward Sambor hydropower development. I have paraphrased the concerns expressed by the participants.

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Picture 1: Group photo of workshop’s participants

Narrative 1: Mrs. Chen Sokunthor in her 50s from Achen village, Kampong Cham commune

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Mrs. Chen Sokunthor

Even though it is still to be determined if Sambor hydropower will be built, the community people in Sambor constantly worry in the face of this uncertainty. If the government decide to implement it, it will severely affect the people in Sambor but how can we stop the government’s decision? So, we insist the government to have in-depth study on the impact and provide justice to the population by giving a fair and proper compensation to the affected people. If the compensation and solution are not proper, it will affect the population then the population will feel disappointed with the government. Government should also inform people in advance, so that people can prepare themselves to cope with the changes. If we don’t know about the decision of the government in advance and it happens immediately, it will strongly affect and damage our livelihoods.

In my village, from the dry season [December] to this month [May], we herd our cattle and buffaloes into the fields. If moving us out of this village, it should be to where there are grazing fields and water body for us to raise cattle and buffaloes. If not, our cattle and buffaloes will have nothing to eat and die. The grazing field in my commune is very big and I cannot estimate how big it is. Only in my own village, Achen, there are so many free lands for grazing cattle and buffalo.

Narrative 2: Mr. Hol Soeung, Boeng Char commune chief in his 60s has shared his opinion toward hydropower development

I think Sambor is a special biodiversity area and especially for fish reproduction in connection to Tonle Sap Lake, the heart of Cambodia. It should not be invested in hydropower development. Not only people in Sambor but the nation as a whole will lose our rich biodiversity resources.

Concerning with relocation, it is very important to note that new settlement location would be chosen and arranged by the government and developer. I watched a TV show and saw that a new location is 80 Kilometer from the community’s old place for the case of Lower Sesan 2. Some people think that the proposed location is not appropriate for them to make a living and want another location. It should be opened for project affected communities to choose new resettlement location to best fit the majority and think of those won’t accept the proposed location.

I would like to thank you as researcher for conducting a study. If there is no hydropower, it would be fine or if it will happen, it could help us to think in advance. Recently, I heard that our prime minister discussed with Russian prime minister on possibility to produce electricity from nuclear energy. I would like to thank government and Civil Society Organization for seeking alternatives to produce electricity for the population and also find way to avoid negative impact to people.

From these two narratives, I would like to share my impression as the following: 

A plan for Sambor hydropower has created concerns and stress for local people. They have lived with worry, and emotionally have been a victim from the proposed hydropower development. Local people are now keen to access information so they can regain some control over their lives. However, Sambor hydropower plan is still uncertain and no official information is available to local people.

People feel inferior toward the government or hydropower plan. They don’t expect that they could claim their rights to be compensated but rather request for kindly help them by providing a proper compensation and properly implemented the resettlement policy.

Fishery resources and biodiversity of Sambor is a natural heritage for local people. They insist the government find other ways to produce energy rather than constructing hydropower in Sambor. They are afraid of being displaced without meaningful consultation as well as fair solution.

Finally, I would say that I have found the people’s narratives as heart-felt. I would urge the policy and decision makers to take opportunities to directly listen to the potential affected people prior to taking official decisions.